Rights of sanitation workers

Call it a major flaw or irony of our so-called ‘civilised society’ that those who keep it clean and liveable are from the most vulnerable and neglected section. Sanitation workers are forced to live in deplorable, almost sub-human conditions.

Despite the fact that Article 25 of the Constitution clearly states that “all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection”, they are abhorred to the extent that they are not even allowed to mingle with the rest of society. Sanitation workers have no choice, but to live in segregated slum-like colonies that further add to their misery, as such colonies are the breeding grounds for various diseases due to unhygienic conditions.

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Children of this segment of society are not provided equal opportunities in terms of education and jobs due to the stigma attached to their existence and hence are forced to live a life that their forefathers had lived centuries ago. They cannot even dream of pursuing any other career than their family profession. There is nothing wrong in being a janitor, but everyone deserves to have options.

Majority of the sanitation workers are working without any affiliation with the relevant government department and are more vulnerable to exploitation as they are not provided with the relevant personal protective equipment (PPE), and are given meagre wages.

They have to face social hatred. They are deprived of their right to medical leave or vacations, some are denied leave even on their religious festivals, which is a blatant violation of Articles 14 and 25 of the Constitution, dealing with inviolability of dignity of a person and equality of citizens.

Although the local government manages sanitation, the working conditions on offer are comparable with that of informal sector. They are usually classified as ‘daily wagers’ and denied basic labour rights.

As most of this hazardous work is being done manually and without proper care, workers are constantly prone to risk of death or severe injuries.

Most of the sanitation workers die or become handicapped during their work.

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According to a report by the National Commission for Human Rights, more than 65 per cent sanitation workers who died during job belonged to minority communities. The government job applications specifically mention ‘non-Muslim’, which is in contravention of Article 27 that deals with discrimination in services.

The government needs to take concrete steps to raise awareness among the masses about the dignity and equality of sanitation workers. It is time to educate people about their civic responsibilities, and a lot needs to be done to sensitise the public at large about the stigmas and stereotypes pertaining to sanitation workers.

The hazardous work should not be carried out without proper care and protection, manual scavenging should be banned as we are living in the 21st century and lots of dangerous work can be done by mechanical tools and equipment.

Moreover, proper record of such workers should be maintained. They must be provided adequate salary and health insurance. Recently, the human rights ministry issued a letter to chief secretaries of all the provinces, directing them to ensure that sanitation workers were protected in the line of duty under international obligations. But what really needed on the ground is the effective implementation of such orders.

MOTIA SIKANDAR

KARACHI

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