A society is known by whether or not it is able to protect its weakest citizens. In the last few months there has been a steady rise in suicide attempts by sanitation workers in Pakistan.
These workers are “at the lowest tier of the sanitation services. They maintain, inspect, clean and unclog sewers and, when needed, descend via manholes into fecal sludge, without protection equipment or tools. They do not have a voice. There is no union or federation of sanitation workers — unlike in other countries — to let us hear their collective voice. We only know that the majority of these workers belong to a minority community, discriminated against and shunned by the majority. We come to know of their existence when they suffer fatal accidents in the line of duty, or when they are treated inhumanly in the most unpardonable manner like an injured worker from Umerkot was reportedly treated in hospital.”
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) “arbitrary layoffs and the non-payment of wages have continued for months. This is taking a brutal toll on a section of the workforce that is often considered ‘invisible’, despite providing vital labour.”
HRCP condemned “the indifference of the federal and provincial governments, and of municipal corporations, to such workers who consistently face hazardous working conditions. The Commission aims to work closely with sanitation workers’ associations across the country and demands that their grievances are heard and redressed fairly and promptly. Sanitation work demands the same dignity and welfare benefits as any other occupation.”