Voice of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Saturday, October 1, 2022

Marginalized Sanitation Workers Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Coronavirus pandemic has lead Pakistan to a mix of partial and complete lockdown. Over 13,328 positive cases have been confirmed as of late April with 292 conform coronavirus deaths. The government of Pakistan has further extended countrywide lockdown to May 9, 2020.

Even though, most of us are advised to stay at home and maintain social distancing due to corona pandemic, some departments such as country’s medical care professionals are on the frontline against the outbreak. Amid those at the greatest risk of COVID-19 are a very ignored segment of sweepers, janitors, domestic workers and cleaning crews who are also active in this pandemic situation and plays a very significant role in ensuring hygiene environment.

In current pandemic situation, cleaning staff generally is at more risk as they have to take care of deep cleaning, sanitizing, scrubbing the areas that are a potential source of dangerous viruses and germs. Many of the sweepers work at hospitals with corona virus patients which put them at additional risk of getting infected with the coronavirus. Moreover, most of the workers are without any protective equipment despite at more risk to the virus. The hiring institutes mostly keep them at low priority and fails to provide any protective equipment.

Approximately 80% to 90 % of sanitation staff in Pakistan are mainly Christians, comprising the nation’s janitors, street sweepers, and street workers. The higher percentage of Christian sanitary workers is an indication of their poor economic conditions as Christians in Pakistan denote less than 2% of the total population.

The salaries paid to the workers are generally insufficient and do not even cover their basic needs. In such low income, the workers can not afford to buy safety equipment and choose to work without it if not provided by the department or institutes.

When a female sweeper was asked about it, she said “I get paid Rs,15, 000 per month and work for 12 hours a day, our salaries are not even paid regularly and depends on the officer’s temperament. At times, he pays the salary after two months, or it gets extended to three months or more. If any of us ask for safety equipment, the officer blames it on the government and does not take responsibility for it.”

Keeping in view the higher risk, there is a need to provide proper training and personal protective equipment to these workers. If the situations remains the same, there is a fear of rapid rise in corona affected patients in janitors and sweepers leaving government efforts useless.

“In the hospital, we are not provided with protective equipment,” a sweeper from a government hospital in Peshawar told. “The management does not treat us as humans, or we are not considered equal to other professionals at the hospital.” He further added, “We are also terrified of coronavirus, but our jobs are also essential to feed our family.”

In this time of crisis and uncertainty, it is of paramount importance to grow beyond our biasis and provide the best facilities to all those who are at the fore front of this war. More than ever, the safety, rights and health of cleaning workforce must be taken into account. If ignored, the poor workers and their communities are extreme vulnerable to COVID-19.

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