During the Coronavirus pandemic, waste management and sanitary workers are performing their duties even though the movements and mobility province-wide are restricted. They are key workers and are similarly essential during the implementation of lockdown. Covid-19 associated precautions are mandatory to curb person-to-person transmission while these workers continue their work.
Lack of protection and vaccination for sweepers or cleaners could also upsurge the spread of this deadly virus. In Pakistan over 858,000 cases have been reported since the start of the pandemic, the number stood at over 124, 000 in KP.
Just like other first respondents to any event, sanitation workers also interact as first respondents, yet their safety and security not taken care of. The government provided vaccination to the first respondents like Rescue 1122 and Journalists no sanitary worker has been vaccinated.
Rihana Bibi, a sanitary worker whose actual name has been changed to protect her identity, is one of the few who voids festering tanks and washrooms whilst maintains sewers. While talking to Voice of KP she said, “Other sanitation workers and I, are the reason that the nation can live at home without thinking of waste disposal during the lockdown.” Sanitary workers put themselves at extreme risk of catching coronavirus disease.
The sanitary workers in Peshawar said that they did not receive any PPE kit from their employers whereas their pay is not enough to afford these kits. They added that COVID-19 has further put their safety and health at risk.
“We only have the choice to work throughout this pandemic, with little to no reward of the protective measures and thinking of getting protective measure or vaccinated to stay safe and healthy is a dream” expressed Sunita John, a sanitary worker in one of the biggest hospitals of Peshawar.
Sanitation workers in Pakistan face societal stigma and have little to no labour rights or social protection. “We keep doing our jobs under great risk only to give people some level of comfort. But, unfortunately, the public does not value our sacrifice” Akash a sanitation worker told Voice of KP. He further added, “With proper job recognition and protection we will be able to stay safe whilst will continue our most important roles in society.”
The previous year, International Labour Organization and World Health Organisation and World Bank have called out for more effort from every sector to improve the working conditions and to formalize workers’ rights. As Coronavirus adds to the potential risks, sanitary workers through Voice of KP are calling the government bodies and for immediate action to facilitate them availing healthcare, including vaccination and emergency financial aid for their safety.