women sanitary workers lahore
Women sanitary workers face challenging health risks because of their work

 

 

With the lockdown, people have been pushed back inside their homes. No one wants to risk being outdoors, for fear of contracting the Coronavirus. Yet the heroes who battle it out everyday, outside the comfort of their homes, outside the bounds of safety are none others than our heroes – doctors, sanitary workers, journalists, the police. All of them are risking their lives every day, only in order to protect the public from the deadly disease in the air. Voicepk.net pays tribute to these people, as everyday they are ON THE FRONTLINES.

Interviews by Haider Kaleem

 

On Monday, March 30, the first case of Coronavirus was reported within the Lahore Waste Management Company, of Senior Manager Asif Jutt who was tested positive yesterday. While the Government claims to have provided them all with protective gear the workers complain that they have not received anything.

These pictures today taken from their own official attendance software can be used as evidence to show that sanitary workers are still out there working without any safety measures – exposing themselves and others as they work.

two workers without protective gear
Two workers without protective gear
scooping up the garbage without gloves or masks
Scooping up the garbage without gloves or masks
Worker in street cleaning
A worker stops his work to salute as a form of greeting
worker without gear
Many of the workers do not have PPE while on duty

 

NO PPE

“We have an eight-hour duty day, but we are frequently told to do overtime without any compensation. Right now, we have no protective gear for us to be safe as we work during the lockdown situation.

At the rate they get dirty, we should be getting four to five pairs a day. What we get is one pair which we have to reuse for two weeks. As for the uniform that we wear its given to us only once a year.

women sanitary workers lahore
Women sanitary workers face challenging health risks because of their work – Photo courtesy AFP

Yet we do not have a choice to say no to work, despite the risk involved, because we must feed our children – how else will they survive? Already we have to face different salary cuts every month.

The doctors working still have some kind of protective gear but what do we get – just these flimsy masks? The Government and the public both need to understand that we are doing the most dangerous job. If I talk to the Chief Minister right now, I would tell him all this directly to make him understand how difficult and scary a situation it is for us.”

– Razia Javed, Sanitary Worker Lahore.

MOST VULNERABLE

“Despite the Corona threat, all sanitary workers are regularly coming to duty except for those who have not been given special ID cards by the Government so that they are allowed to move around during lockdown.

A couple of weeks ago the union had a meeting with the Chairman, Managing Director (MD) and Deputy Managing director of Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) to ask for protective gear and equipment including masks, gloves, shoes etc as we work hard to keep the city clean. The MD assured we would get it all with the help of DC Lahore.

Around 4000 surgical masks were distributed among 8700 workers!

Even doctors with protective gear are getting infected. Imagine what could happen to us who are literally doing the cleaning work.

Also workers have been directed not to take any public photos without wearing a mask and gloves, so sometimes we just borrow from each other which is even riskier. Every single worker including drivers, supervisors, zonal officers should immediately be screened and tested with the virus to ensure their safety.

Pervaiz Akhtar 1
Pervaiz Akhtar

We are not even asking for days off anymore given the scenario but we are underpaid so our salaries should be doubled keeping in mind the risk we take. Despite being exposed, we take pride to work with full commitment for the people on humanitarian grounds.”

-Pervaiz Akhtar Naz, General Secretary Jhaaru Kash Mazdoor Union (CBA) Lahore.

 

‘NO WORKER UNSAFE IN GUJRANWALA’

“Not a single worker is working in unsafe conditions right now. We have masks and gloves and more will be available from next week. Sanitizers have been given to every worker. More have been installed in the offices of the company.

It is surprising for us but it has been possible because the current Managing Director of the Gujranwala Solid Waste Management Company has actually proven to be someone who loves and takes care of all workers and the staff. He made sure that we are get the required basic safety gear to work under the pandemic.

parvaiz Mattoo
Pervez Mattoo

Just like the doctors, nurses, WAPDA workers, Military and the police, sanitary workers are equally fighting the Coronavirus at the frontline and we are equally exposed to the risk of getting infected but together we have decided to work harder despite the fact that we remain invisible to everyone. That I think is the saddest part.

-Pervez Mattoo, President CBA Solid Waste Management Company Gujranwala.

‘WE FACE TERRIBLE ATTITUDES’

“Our masks are almost unusable. We have to carry a hard glue with us to keep mending them as they tend to fall off now and then. The masks are all we have while we work in such a risky situation – flimsy masks!

Whenever we ask for more, we get scolded and are told to “keep working! You must keep working! Get going!” But we also have a right to be safe. Officers’ attitudes towards us are like if we die it is no big deal.

Nobody thinks that we have been fighting hundreds of diseases since years now but no one gives us any salutes or standing ovations. What do we get? Nothing. We are the ones who work on every public holiday including Eid and we are the ones who are working during the lockdown too.

I can see that even the Dolphin police force have PPE at the Ganga Ram Hospital but what about us who are literally cleaning and disinfecting the place. But we will continue to work with dignity and responsibility because this is public service and there can be no ifs and buts in the current situation for any public servant.”

-Baba Mukhtar, Sanitary Worker Lahore

‘WE ARE SOLDIERS IN A BATTLE’

“People should realise that we are also a part of this battle like many other professionals and we must fight it together if we want to win. In fact, this is not only a professionals’ work, the whole nation should take responsibility now because it looks really bad and serious.

It is impossible to get out of such a terrifying situation without proper cleanliness and if we do not take it seriously, more diseases and infections will take place. People should also help us with waste management now by disposing things responsibly in their respective communities.

We do not have a choice not do this anymore.”

-Sattar Khokhar, Sanitary worker, Lahore.