As many as sixty sanitation workers gathered outside the Lahore Press Club on Wednesday to protest the use of an android phone-based attendance system recently launched by the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC).
Many workers present said their pay cheques had seen significant deductions, at times nearly bringing the amount down to half due to the new attendance system.
Pervez Patras, a sanitation worker, said his pay had been cut for the past many months but more so last month. He said the attendance was taken at 6 am, and if workers were a little late, when the attendance was taken through pictures, they were marked absent for the entire day. Patras said his monthly pay of Rs20,000 had been cut down to Rs 12,000. Others complained that, at times, they finished their work and had left by the time the worker in charge of attendance came with the android phone.
Ruby Masih, along with a group of female sanitation workers, said that as women they felt disrespected and humiliated being photographed by a cell phone in public space. “Would the officers subject their own wives and daughters to this?” she asked.
LWMC Managing Director Waseem Ajmal had told The Express Tribune on Tuesday that the new system would ensure equitable share of the workload for sanitary workers. “No one would be allowed to play hooky without consequence.” He also said there were several workers in the company who had to pick the slack of their fellow workers, and this system would prevent that.
Sanitation worker Sadiq Roshan claimed that daroghas, area supervisors, were taking up to Rs2,500 for marking attendance
Roshan said workers’ faces were often half-covered by the caps they wore that allowed the darogha to take a picture and mark someone who had bribed him as present.
LWMC Communications Manager Raza Khan told The Express Tribune that previously, many workers had been simultaneously working other jobs which they would now have to leave as they had to be physically present for the pictures.
He said there was a centralised database of workers’ photos that were tallied with the photos taken, making it nearly impossible to cheat.
He also said they were still working on steam-lining the system and as workers were mostly uneducated, they would have to be trained to understand it better.
Roshan claimed that their pay was also deducted when they took breaks to eat – “even for drinking water” a voice in the crowd shouted hyperbolically. Others complained of lack of healthcare and serious concerns, such as worsening eye sight and respiratory problems due to the large amounts of dust they inhaled every day.
The LWMC communications manager said that cutting their pay would create a sense of accountability amongst workers.
President of the Sweepers’ Union Mushtaq Asi, Awami Worker Party (AWP) General Secretary Farooq Tariq and AWP Lahore General Secretary Shazia Khan spoke at the demonstration. The group of sanitation workers then marched to Shaheen Complex, the headquarters of the Turkish Company OzPak, and chanted slogans against the LWMC. The group was going to sit down but the police dispersed them. The sanitation workers plan to strike again at 10 am on Thursday. They are calling for an eight-day strike where no sanitation worker will come into work.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2014.