Marginalized Cleaners Struggle for Survival

About the miserable situation experienced by the Cleaning Fund's workers in Dhamar
Saqr Abu Hassan
December 11, 2023

Marginalized Cleaners Struggle for Survival

About the miserable situation experienced by the Cleaning Fund's workers in Dhamar
Saqr Abu Hassan
December 11, 2023

The Cleaning and Improvement Fund—the body in charge of waste management across Dhamar city—employs about 353 male and female workers, all of whom are from the Muhamasheen (marginalized) group. Only seven of them hold middle management positions in the Fund's departments, all of which are related to the job performance of the workers.

“Even those who became department managers were, until recently, workers practicing their work in the field, although some of them obtained university degrees”, according to Yahya Obaid's interview with "Khuyut." Adding to that, “the marginalized drop out of education towards the labor market, working in the lowest-income professions and for long hours, whether in the government sector or the private sector, after their work was limited to ‘cleaning’."

The cleaner, who is fixed in the lists of official employees, receives an amount of 31 thousand riyals as a monthly salary, while those who work in the daily wage system—the unofficial ones—receive 20 thousand per month, and those who work in the incentive system receive an amount ranging from 60 to 70 thousand riyals per three months.

Those meager amounts are not enough for the requirements of a decent living as well as for coping with the health risks incurred by the cleaner. Mohammed Ramadan, one of the supervisors of the cleaners (a group leader), tells “Khuyut”: “There is no health insurance for the cleaning worker, and everyone who gets sick is treated at the government hospital, Dhamar General Hospital, at the expense of the Fund, but not all diseases are covered."

The worker becomes infected with a long series of infectious diseases when dealing with the waste of medical centers or factories amid lacking the most basic protective tools

“There is no insurance or even personal protective equipment or tools, despite the diseases and health damage they are exposed to. The least when a worker is injured while collecting the waste from the blacksmithing or carpentry workshops, as he only wipes the wound, makes some sterilizer on it, or ties it with gauze.”

According to one of the doctors working at Dhamar General Hospital, who preferred not to mention his name, in an interview with "Khuyut," that "eye diseases, allergies, and skin diseases" are at the top of the list of diseases that the cleaner suffers from constantly, stressing that the health effects resulting from the work of cleaners in the chaotic manner that is currently happening, endanger their lives and the lives of their families.

He also points out that the cleaner is constantly exposed to danger and death at any moment due to his dealing with various types of solid and liquid waste, many of which carry a direct threat to his life and his family members.

Arduous Profession with Scarce Possibilities 

Economic conditions push many of the Muhamasheen (marginalized) group to work in the field of cleaning, as it is the easiest profession that anyone can practice, in addition to the societal closure that treats this profession with inferiority.

In this regard, the Director of the Cleaning Sector at the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in Dhamar City, Munir Al-Shaher, explains to "Khuyut" by saying: "We are working at our maximum capacity to make the city of Dhamar clean," adding: "We have 353 male and female workers, conducting "sweeping, scratching, transporting, and dumping," of whom about 20% are females, which is a small number compared to what the city of Dhamar needs to cover it adequately, as it needs approximately 600 male and female workers, in addition to new equipment and mechanisms.”

“In 2019, the accounts and revenues of the Cleaning Fund in the city of Dhamar were registered at the Ministry of Finance of the Sana’a Authority, and the Fund was transformed from an independent local revenue entity into one of the revenue channels associated with the Ministry of Finance.”

“The Fund currently receives a monthly budget from the Ministry. However, before linking the fund to the Ministry of Finance, the monthly revenues exceeded more than 140 million riyals. He continues by saying, "But the total amount supplied to the Ministry of Finance by the Cleaning and Improvement Fund is "confidential information" that cannot be disclosed," according to a current official of the Fund. While an informed source who spoke to “Khuyut” confirms that the monthly revenues exceed 200 million riyals after the revenues of government markets in the city of Dhamar were kept in the hands of the local authority in Dhamar governorate.

The director of the cleaning sector at the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in the city of Dhamar expresses his regret for the lack of health insurance for workers and that the financial assistance provided to them is very little. In return, the worker is responsible for treatment if he is afflicted with any disease, although many of them contract diseases while working in cleaning.

Shaher says: “Our problem is the Ministry of Finance, as it allocated a fixed amount to the Fund. It is no longer able to implement any plan or program or even develop performance,” repeating the phrase “We are restricted” three times in his interview with "Khuyut." Adding: “Although the Fund has a large number of plans and programs to develop the work, and they were sent to the Ministry of Finance, none of them were implemented.”

Child Labour

This official at the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in Dhamar says: “If the Ministry of Finance in Sana’a dealt with us as it deals with one district in the capital Sana’a, we would be much better than we are now.”

To go beyond health insurance, and talks about "official child labor," by saying: “We have young workers, some of whom are not more than 15 years old, and likewise, some workers are over 60 or 70 years old, so they send their sons or daughters to do their work in order to continue financial dues, and amid the shortage in the number of workers, the accumulation of work, and the volume of waste and garbage, we are forced to accept this abnormal situation."

Aside from child workers, the cleaning efforts have greatly increased in the city of Dhamar, making a big difference over the past years. Likewise, the cleaners in the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in the city of Ma’bar, the center of Jahran district, share the same daily worries and pain and live in similar economic and living conditions, quite similar to the cleaners in the city of Dhamar.

About 40 male and female workers spend their daily working hours collecting garbage and waste without any protection or safety tools. A former official in the Cleaning Fund in the city of Ma'bar told "Khuyut": “Cleaning workers have the least income and the most work, while about fifty employees are distributed in other administrative work in the Fund and receive more sums than the cleaning workers. He pointed out that the cleaning workers are the weakest link in the chain of daily work related to cleanliness and improvement in Dhamar or Ma’bar, and everyone leans on their shoulders and their work.

Further, there is no insurance, or even personal protection tools or equipment, despite the diseases and health damage to which they are exposed. The least when a worker is injured while collecting the waste from the blacksmithing or carpentry workshops, as he only wipes the wound, makes some sterilizer on it, or ties it with gauze, according to the expression of the former official, in reference to the extent of negligence faced by cleaning workers.

Law and Insurance Liability

In the estimation of the legal advisor and civil activist Abdulkarim Al-Masry, the Cleaning and Improvement Fund in the city of Dhamar must comply with the work conditions stipulated in the “Civil Service and Labor” laws, in terms of the rights and duties stipulated in the law, like the rest of the other employees. However, what is happening is illegal, especially with regard to health insurance for the employees and workers of the Cleaning Fund, as they work in hazardous work.

He confirmed, in an interview with "Khuyut," that officially employed workers are subject to the 'Civil Service Law', while workers who work on a contract or daily wage system are subject to the 'Labor Law', which aims to protect workers in general, and it is legally imposed that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is responsible for enforcing the law.

While the “Labor Law” prohibits the employment of women or minors in hazardous and arduous work that is harmful to health, there are dozens of young persons under the age of eighteen—all of them from marginalized people—roaming the streets and neighborhoods of the city of Dhamar for collecting the garbage, sweeping, and cleaning. This is a situation that Al-Masry considers "incorrect."

Adding: “As for minors, they may not be employed unless with the consent of their parents and the notice of the Social Affairs and Labor Office. In terms of health care and health insurance for male and female cleaning workers, the legal advisor, AbdulKarim Al-Masry, indicated that the Cleaning and Improvement Fund should contract with specialized doctors or a medical institution to treat its workers and to bear the expenses of treatment and its supplies. Further, the Cleaning Fund must conduct a medical examination for the workers before hiring them and open a file for each worker, according to Article 119 of the Labor Law.

He also stresses the importance that the Cleaning Fund—as a government body—should work to provide health insurance for workers, in addition to providing protective clothing to protect workers from exposure to occupational injuries and diseases.

Furthermore, he reviewed some of the legal aspects that cleaning workers do not pay attention to, which are: “Every worker is entitled to a full month's paid annual leave, in addition to sick leave, while a working woman has seventy days of paid leave during childbirth and forty days of paid leave during the death of her husband." He pointed out that any worker who suffers an occupational disease or injury during work is entitled to leave with full pay until his health condition is determined in accordance with the Social Insurance Law. Therefore, the Cleaning Fund must “provide insurance for workers in the event of old age or death.”

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