Garbage collectors throw caution to wind | The Express Tribune


Thousands of workers in the port city show up every day to collect trash and give the metropolis some semblance of cleanliness; however, they do their thankless job without any safety measures, which puts their health at a serious risk.

Karachi’s piling garbage woes mandate a proportionate and well-equipped workforce dedicated to collecting trash and sweeping the roads. However, neither is the workforce proportionate, nor are the present employees given any incentives like adequate pay, health benefits, and safety measures.

“Injuries are a routine part of our work,” regretted Javed Masih, a resident of Akhtar Colony, a labourer employed by the city. When questioned if he was ever provided with any gloves or other protective equipment, Javed pointed towards the now healed wounds on his hands and feet and remarked, “if they had given me gloves or shoes, I would not have had these cuts.”

Javed’s belief that injuries are routine and safety equipment is a blessing that he may not be entitled to is common amongst all labourers who collect Karachi’s garbage. Another such labourer, Luqman, told the Express Tribune that no one told him the importance of safety equipment like masks, gloves, or shows. “Maybe it would be better if I wore a mask because my cough is starting to worsen every time I start working,” he said.

Read: Housing societies without garbage site to face action

Perhaps what Luqman does not realise yet is that his cough may not be just a cough but a respiratory disease that he has developed due to his constant exposure to dust and toxic fumes of garbage, according to Dr Mohammad Ali, who runs a dispensary in Azam Basti of Mehmoodabad. “Many labourers who collect garbage and roads develop respiratory diseases and are never aware of it. The government needs to make them aware about the importance of safety equipment,” suggested Dr Ali.

However, if the government were to start an awareness drive in line with Dr Ali’s suggestions, it might not have the desired impact. “I do not have enough money to buy such unnecessary stuff,” said Ashok, a young labourer who works as a garbage collector for a contractor of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, when asked if he would buy safety equipment for his wellbeing.

Ajay Kumar, a garbage collector in the Saddar Area, had similar views. “Masks and gloves are pointless. If I am meant to get sick I will. Besides, I do not have the money to buy these fancy items,” he asserted.

With labourers not interested in splurging on safety equipment, the Express Tribune asked the Deputy Director of the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, Tariq Nizamani, as to why the Board did not ensure the safety of their workers. “Trash collection is handed over to private companies and contractors, so only they can enforce or provide safety equipment,” informed Nizamani.

“However, we do try to ensure safety. Whenever we see someone working without safety equipment, we penalise their contractor or company,” he added quickly while talking to The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2023.

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