KARACHI: A huge number of conscientious citizens, wearing neon orange safety vests, turned up at the Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue in Defence to march for the rights of janitors on Sunday morning.
The ‘Justice for Janitors’ group headed by human rights activist Naeem Sadiq demanded justice, equality and dignity for janitors all over the country. They wanted janitors in all organisations of the state to be paid the minimum wage applicable in their province regardless of the nature of their employment.
They demanded that all janitors be regularised after three months of work and be registered with Employees Old-age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and Social Security.
They said that no janitor must ever be made to enter a gutter without a safety kit including a hazmat suit, safety harnesses, ropes, breathing devices and gas testing.
Rights activist Sadiq says janitors have been exploited, underpaid and treated like slaves
They wanted all government advertisement for sanitary workers’ jobs asking for only non-Muslims to be banned. And they wanted the manual entry of janitors for cleaning of gutters to be replaced by machines.
“The expense of the mechanical equipment for manual cleaning may be recovered by selling the large television sets that are now found in most government offices and only contribute in wasting the time and attention of the bureaucrats,” Mr Sadiq told Dawn.
“The pillars of the state and society have let the janitors down ever since the creation of Pakistan. They have been exploited, underpaid and treated like slaves. Not a single janitor here gets the minimum wage as set by the government. They have been living in extreme poverty while being deprived of their dignity and humanity as they are made to work in the most appalling, repulsive and demeaning conditions. And people pass them by in their big luxurious cars without noticing their misery. They just accept what is going on. But we demand an extreme end to this cruelty,” he added.
Minimum wage not being paid to janitors
Artist, writer and activist Rumana Husain said that the minimum wage as set by the Sindh government is Rs25,000 but the janitors are still getting far less than that. “They are getting around Rs15,000,” she said.
Shabnum Abdullah, a member of the Justice for Janitors group, said they are also human beings but they have been ostracised. “Why this discrimination? These people clean our dirt. They keep us clean and we bury them in filth and turn our backs on them,” she said.
MPA Rabia Azfar Nizami said that she has been writing to all government and non-governmental organisations for the rights of janitors. “I have reached out to authorities, local municipalities, cantonments, hospitals, etc., to at least pay the legal minimum wages to janitors. The chief minister had announced Rs25,000 as minimum wage in the province but it has not happened for janitors. Even the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, which is a government organisation, has not yet done the needful,” she said.
“What to talk of government organisations, municipalities and cantonment boards, when even the industry here is not giving them their due right. There are 40,000 industries in Sindh and not a single one of them is paying the minimum wage. They also hire children. The younger a janitor, the lesser he or she is paid,” she pointed out.
Zahid Farooq of the Urban Resource Centre said that because of the ill-treatment of janitors, they are reducing in numbers as the population grows.
Educationist Baela Raza Jamil said what is happening to janitors here is something to be realised by the educated people of this society to bring an end to the injustice.
Pastor Ghazala Shafiq from the Church of Pakistan said even the church is not paying due attention to the janitors who are mostly Christians. “I have been bringing up their issues in the church but so far there has been no result,” she said.
Another issue that the Pastor brought up was that janitorial positions are also handed out by people who are taking their salaries. “Someone gets a janitorial job for say, Rs20,000 and he does not do the job. Instead he calls in someone else to fill in for him on a smaller amount as he himself pockets the rest of the money and works somewhere else. This kind of handling also requires research,” she pointed out.
Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2021