19 November 2020, Kathmandu
The Amnesty International, WaterAid and the International Dalit Solidarity Network has called on authorities in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to take immediate action to protect sanitation workers who are risking their lives on the COVID-19 frontlines.
The joint statement has come as the UN marks World Toilet Day today.
They have also called on national governments and local authorities in the countries to urgently provide immediate support and implement protective measures to help sanitation and waste workers cope with the heightened risks as the pandemic continues.
They have also demanded regular supply of PPE, adequate training on COVID-19 related risks, health insurance, social security and financial compensation for hours worked and risks to the workers.
The statement has also asked the authorities to ensure subcontracted and informal workers are not left out of these measures, and ensure the safety of all workers, especially women workers, from abuse, discrimination and other forms of violence at work.
Amnesty International, WaterAid and the International Dalit Solidarity Network have also urged the countries to ensure that sanitation workers have access to regular health screening, and accessible and affordable health services.
“The inability to pay must not be a barrier to accessing health care and treatment,” the statement said seeking action to address the caste, gender and religious discrimination that reinforces forced and precarious labor conditions and implement legislations to end illegal act of manual scavenging practices and rehabilitate workers.
It may be noted that across South Asia, workers cleaning toilets and streets, emptying latrine pits and maintaining sewers are faced with acute health and safety risks.
They lack adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), training support to cope with risks, job security, social security, health insurance and access to handwashing facilities.
The caste dimension of sanitation work in these countries also means that workers are highly stigmatized and discriminated against when accessing services or seeking other occupations.
A new research by WaterAid in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation worse for the vast majority of these workers.
Some have even been redeployed to service COVID-19 quarantine centers with limited training on COVID-9 related risks or how to use PPE.
Their financial security has also been affected either due to increased but non-compensated working hours in some cases, and reduced demand for their services in others.
“Sanitation workers are the hidden workforce keeping towns and cities in South Asia functioning throughout the pandemic, but they work in very poor and too often life-threatening conditions and are subject to stigma and discrimination based on caste and religion” said Vanita Suneja, South Asia Regional Advocacy Manager at WaterAid.
“COVID-19 and related lockdowns have exacerbated these risks, especially among the many sanitation workers informally employed. Most female sanitation workers are informal workers risking their lives every day. The safety and dignity of these workers have been disproportionally affected.”
The International Dalit Solidarity Network has campaigned to raise the plight of low caste sanitation workers, being lowered into sewers or cleaning dry latrines with no protective equipment.