With the danger of COVID-19 looming large in the country, sanitation workers are being exposed to the increasing risks because of the pandemic. The workers of the Tiruchi Corporation continue to work without protective gear even as panic grips populations across the world due to the highly infectious disease. These workers are yet to receive any of the protective gear entitled to them for the past two years. When utmost care is being advised to prevent a community spread, the government has neglected the basic needs of these workers.
The demands of protective gears for all health workers are being raised by many, as they are more prone to getting exposed to the threat.
NO PROTECTIVE GEAR FOR WORKERS
More than 2,500 sanitation workers, called as ‘Swach Ambassadors’, of the Tiruchi Corporation are being forced to undertake the sanitation and garbage collection work without any recommended precautionary measures.
Maran, secretary of the Tiruchi Sanitation Workers’ Union told NewsClick that the demands of the workers are totally neglected by the administration. “The workers are continuing their work in this crucial situation. But the government and the corporation administration are putting the life of the poor workers at risk. They are exposed to different types of wastes, with many people under home quarantine and many trying to hide their infection out of fear. The workers continue their work with bare hands, increasing the risk to their health,” he added.
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Around 1,400 of the total sanitation workers are on contract, limiting their access to basic rights. Maran added, “Only nine hundred of the total workers are permanent. The remaining belong to various self help groups and work on contract for daily wages. The administration is forcing them to buy the protective gears by themselves which is so cruel. This totally undermines the risk taken by this section of the society along with other health workers. The contractualisation of health workers and underpayment of wages need to be stopped at the earliest ”.
The workers also allege that even the regular material to undertake their work have not been supplied for the past two years. The administration is supposed to provide 21 items including glove, shovel, waste basket and uniforms. They have to preserve these items for one full year. However, none of these items has been made available to the workers for the past two year adding to the hardship faced by the workers. However, whenever an inspection committee of the Swacch Bharat Mission pays a visit, the corporation officials manage to supply the materials to the workers.
CONTRACT WORKERS UNDERPAID
These contract workers draw Rs 500/ per day as wages against the Rs 625/ wage announced by the government. A government order was issued announcing this wage in October 2017, but has not been implemented in many of the corporations across the state. “The daily wage was as less as Rs 234/ when the workers were appointed. Only after sustained struggles led by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the wages were increased. But even now, the recommended wage as per the government order is not being paid to the workers. They are unable to question the apathy of the administration as they fear loss of jobs. In the month of January, 20 workers were terminated from their work for participating in the all India strike,” said Maran. The workers of the Chennai Corporation also took out a rally demanding the payment of recommended wages on March 16.