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February 28, 2021

Sanitation workers

Editorial

 
February 28, 2021

It has become a regular practice of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad to create problems for its sanitation workers. There was a time when the CDA itself managed all sanitation work and paid salaries on time. Sanitation workers were CDA employees and had job security with other benefits. Then in a fit of cost cutting or in a spree of outsourcing, the CDA decided to hire contractors for sanitation work, especially for garbage collection. For the past couple of years, every now and then the contractors are removed and new contractors hired who default on salaries compelling poor workers to protest. Once again the workers have not received their salaries for over three months now and have been protesting for many days in Islamabad. Apparently, another contractor has been removed by city managers and sanitation workers have nowhere to turn to.

The protesters outside the civic agency’s building have been demanding the release of their salaries but there has been a callous lack of response by the CDA which blames the contractor. According to reports, the last contractor bid for Rs650 million per year and won it, but then it transpired that the private firm had used fraudulent practices to win it from the Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad (MCI). Then the federal government decided to hand over the sanitation directorate from the MCI to the CDA and cancelled the contract of the firm. This has resulted in complete chaos and the sanitation workers are now at the mercy of the CDA which appears to be least concerned about the financial condition of the workers.

The workers are demanding that the contractual system be abolished and the workers be hired by the CDA itself. This demand is genuine and makes sense. If the CDA hires another firm, the contractual system will continue. Whenever a contractor is hired they try to do more cost-cutting, the burden of which falls on the sanitation workers. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the sanitation workers put their lives in the line of danger and kept collecting garbage and removing hazardous material from streets and hospitals. They are not even allowed regular holidays and are forced to work during Eid holidays. Last Christmas a majority of sanitation workers in Islamabad remained without payment and some only received partial payment on Dec 24. This unsympathetic and callous attitude of city managers who deprive sanitation workers of their meagre salaries even on occasions of annual festivities just cannot continue. Now some sectors are cleaned by the CDA regular staff and some others are contracted out. There is an immediate need to discontinue this practice and abolish the contractual system for good. The sanitation workers are the most neglected segment of our society and they need better facilities and respectful treatment.