Jammu: Despite COVID-19 cases rising in Jammu, sanitation workers have been working without protective gear including masks, sanitisers and gloves. Hailed as ‘Corona Warriors’, the workers said they have been forced to work without gear and proper equipment, increasing the risk of them contracting the virus.
The workers are wary since two sanitation workers recently tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, other workers are reluctant to go to work. “We cannot afford private hospitals and looking at the condition of government hospitals – as we clean them often – makes us fear more,” said a worker, requesting anonymity.
The workers said they had implored the Jammu Municipal Corporation (JMC) to provide them with safety gear and sanitisers, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
“We were initially provided with safety gear but they were of low quality. It came to the point that the gloves tore within three hours of using them. Following the incident, we were not given gloves even when we demanded for them. There are no sanitisers. We are asked to use the same mask over and over again after having washed them,” said Lucky, a Safai Karamchari.
Lucky said that the sanitation workers have been asked to disinfect and clean the quarantine centres each time a batch of patients leave. However, they have not yet been provided with new safety kits. “The safety kit that we are using was given to us three months ago. We have been asked to wash the kits and reuse them. The kits are worn out and are of no use now, but we have no other option but to use them,” Lucky added.
Sukhwant Singh, another sanitation worker, burnt his back while disinfecting Nai Basti road, Satwari Chowk, Jammu. Singh said he was not told that the disinfectant had bleach mixed with it. It caused the burn after the tank he was carrying on his shoulders leaked. According to Singh, the incident took place on March 27, but his plight is still unheard. “I had a burning sensation in my back but I ignored it as it was a hot working day in the summer. Then the pain became worse. Later, me and my fellow colleagues found out that in the name of disinfectant, bleach and water was mixed in the tank,” Singh told NewsClick.
Singh said he was not allowed to take an off-day and was forced to work. “They have threatened me that if I take an off they will file a case against me and I will be out of a job,” said Singh, who was getting ready to leave for work.
Amar, another worker, said that Singh is not the only one. He added that at least eight workers had burn injuries after disinfecting Jammu city. “All the workers have been asked to work despite them carrying burn injuries,” he added.
They also lamented about the pending wages of 139 workers who were promoted as permanent workers nine months ago. “During the pandemic, even Safai Karamcharis are vulnerable and need money to fulfil their daily needs. We do not know what they get by stalling the salaries of permanent employees,” Amar said.
Harsh Dev Singh, President of the Panthers Party, said that it was “criminal on the part of government to not provide them with protective gear. Firstly, the wages they receive do not compensate for the work that has been taken from them. Secondly, they are doing the very important job of cleaning cities, hospitals and quarantine centres and in return, they are not provided with protective gear. It is shameful and criminal,” Singh told NewsClick.