The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Tuesday issued notices to the local government
secretary, the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) and others on a petition seeking the implementation of the minimum wages law for all the sanitation workers employed by the LG bodies and the SSWMB.
Naeem Sadiq and others said in their petition that sanitation workers employed by the LG bodies across the province are currently paid well below the minimum wages. They said that many sanitation workers employed by the union councils and the SSWMB, either directly or through a contractor, are not only paid well below the minimum wages but they also get no benefits whatsoever, while they can be fired at will.
They added that sanitation workers have to handle toxic pollutants, noxious substances, and hazardous biological and chemical agents in the course of their work, making them vulnerable to health risks, and they are also required to climb down sewerage drains, where they are immersed in waste and exposed to poisonous substances.
They pointed out that the World Health Organisation and the World Bank have recommended that governments adopt laws and policies that guarantee occupational health and safety for sanitation workers, including the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).
However, they lamented, sanitation workers across the province are not provided with any protective gear while they have to completely expose themselves to hazardous substances. The petitioners said sanitation workers are forced to carry out their responsibilities, including the cleaning of gutters and drains, with just their bodies. They pointed out that members of the religious minorities are specifically recruited to perform these tasks, thus increasing the ostracisation of minorities in society.
They said sanitation workers frequently die in the course of performing their duties due to the absences of protective gear and safety protocols, while they receive no health care or compensation from their employers in case of an injury or death.
They highlighted the constitution’s articles 9 and 25 that require sanitation workers employed by government bodies across Sindh be entitled to at least the minimum legal wages, saying that sanitation workers have a right to livelihood and equality under the law.
The petitioners’ counsel Sara Malkani said sanitation workers are entitled to the minimum wages whether they are directly employed by the LG or the SSWMB, or through contractors providing services on behalf of the LG, while the government must ensure the private contractors to whom they outsource sanitation services are complying with the labour laws.
She requested the court to declare that all sanitation workers employed by the LG bodies and the SSWMB across the province are entitled to the currently applicable minimum wage of Rs17,500 stipulated in accordance with the Sindh Minimum Wages Act 2015.
She also requested the court to direct the government to compensate the sanitation workers who have been deprived of their minimum wages by paying them their wages from the date of their initial employment to the extent for the amount that was unlawfully denied them, and to ensure that all sanitation workers are provided PPE.
An SHC division bench comprising Justice Aftab Ahmed Gorar and Justice Adnanul Karim Memon issued notices to the LG secretary, the SSWMB and others, calling for their comments to be filed on February 22.