KARACHI: The unpaid sanitation workers of Saddar and Lyari towns have threatened to stop work ahead of Eidul Azha, creating panic among senior officials who are already struggling to keep their areas clean of garbage.
Thousands of tons of offal will to be removed during the three holidays but workers, angered over unpaid salaries, say they won’t be doing it this time. Saddar town is one of Karachi’s largest.
“We are tired of this situation. The higher-ups have left us no choice,” said Zulfiqar Shah, a leader of the union, which represents most of the workers. “You don’t pay us, we won’t work. It’s as simple as that.”
Burgeoning government expenses has been taking toll on municipal services for almost a year now. It has become constant battle for towns to fight for funds with the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), which in turn argues with the provincial bureaucracy to pay it on time.
While other towns are able to breakeven by relying on local taxes, the size and situation of Saddar and Lyari has left their administrations in a quagmire of debt.
The two towns employ more than 5,000 staffers because they are home to the highest number of markets, roads, residential colonies and drains.
“Salaries for August, September and now October have yet to be paid,” said Shah. “Eidul Azha is a real test for all of us. The employees work day and night to pick up stinking animal remains, sacrificing their holidays for the sake of a few thousands rupees. The town has not paid us the offal allowance for 2011. So why do the filthy work?”
The offal allowance is a special compensation given to those who work on Eid, lifting offal from outside homes and then taking them to the landfill site. For its part, KMC says it is doing everything possible. Finance director Munawar Imam said that Rs110 million were passed on to the 18 towns as part of their share of the property tax.
“The Sindh government released us 25% of the property tax and we passed it on,” he said. No one knows for sure when the remaining 75% will come. The shuffle in the administration following the enactment of the new local government ordinance has added to the fiscal woes of the city. KMC has a new finance director, Syed Barkaat Ahmed Rizvi. He has recently replaced Amir Khursheed who had been at the helm of affairs for months. Rizvi is also the administrator of Hyderabad.
Amid this chaos, Asim Ali Khan has assumed charge of Saddar Town as an administrator. “I have inherited Rs60 million in debt in payments for diesel and fuel, which we need for garbage trucks and other equipment,” he said. “There is a backlog of payments for development work and then the salaries. What should I do?”
He said Saddar Town’s monthly salary tab comes to around Rs23 million. “We get Rs16 million from the provincial government and I am trying to make up for the rest with our own resources like taxes on hotel functions. But let’s see if we are allowed to raise more of our own revenue.”
All towns get a share from the Octroi Zila Tax (OZT), which was abolished and replaced with the general sales tax a couple of years back. The government collects the sales tax and distributes it among the local administrations at fixed ratios. “I have arranged for the payment of one month’s salary and I can only request the workers not to take any extreme steps,” said administrator Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 16th, 2012.