After 5 COVID-19 deaths, pourakarmikas protest in Bengaluru seeking better protection

The workers demanded that they be provided with changing rooms, toilets, drinking water, sanitization of working equipment besides being tested for COVID-19.
After 5 COVID-19 deaths, pourakarmikas protest in Bengaluru seeking better protection
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Protests broke out on Tuesday morning in many parts of Bengaluru over the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)’s failure to provide personal protective equipment (PPEs), and other basic working conditions for pourakarmikas.

The protests come at a time when five pourakarmikas including a 28-year-old woman have succumbed to COVID-19, while at least 50 such workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The protesters, who were mostly pourakarmikas themselves and members of the BBMP Pourakarmika Sangha which is affiliated with All India Central Council of Trade Unions, sat on an indefinite protest. The union said workers will be going on an indefinite protest from Tuesday by wearing black bands while on duty. They will also carry out a sit-in protest twice a day at their mustering centres.

The workers demanded that they be provided with changing rooms, toilets, drinking water, sanitization of working equipment. They also demanded that they be tested for COVID-19 immediately.

In a statement, the union said, “The risky working conditions of pourakarmikas and the criminal negligence of the BBMP have come to the fore over the past few days as five pourakarmikas have succumbed to COVID-19 while more than 50 have tested positive for the same. Failure of the BBMP to provide PPE kits, cleaning rooms, toilets, drinking water, sanitization of working implements, etc. are glaring.”

It added, “It is unacceptable that there is still no change in working conditions of pourakarmikas, who are predominantly Dalit women. Even as the rains lash Bengaluru, the pourakarmikas continue to work, without any weekly-off, protecting the health of all residents. The irresponsibility of the BBMP is writ large in its failure to ensure disposal of hazardous materials such as disposable masks and gloves as also the waste from containment zones and quarantine households. Instead pourakarmikas are compelled to collect and transport this unsegregated garbage exposing them to the coronavirus.”

The union further alleged that the BBMP has not not even begun thermal screening of the workers at all mustering centres to check for symptomatic patients. They said the BBMP has neither provided institutional quarantine facilities nor have they done any large scale testing of these high-risk workers.

Speaking to TNM, BBMP Chief Engineer Solid Waste Management Vishwanath said that the civic body staff is taking adequate measures but said that there is a scarcity of doctors to do health check-ups.

“We have been providing them all the basic amenities like face shield, gloves, sanitizers and masks. We are also doing a medical check up. But doctors are scarce as many of them are doing (active) COVID-19 duty. But we are still giving priority to pourakarmikas, auto drivers and helpers,” he said.

He also said in areas where many pourakarmikas live, BBMP officers are conducting door-to-door surveys. Vishwanath said he will ask zonal level engineers to convince the workers to withdraw the protests.

The 10-point demand of the workers have been reproduced in full:

1. Conduct mandatory COVID testing of all pourakarmikas immediately

2. Provide fresh PPEs, i.e., masks, gloves, boots and face-sheet regularly, along with disinfectants for pushcart and garbage vehicles

3. Provide changing, washing rooms and toilets at all mustering centres on war footing

4. Conduct thermal testing and health camps for all workers at their mustering centres

5. Ensure segregation of waste at source, and treat all garbage from quarantined homes and containment zones as biomedical waste. No pourakarmikas must be forced to collect garbage from such areas

6. All workers, including auto drivers, helpers & comptractor drivers must be brought under the direct payment system with immediate effect. They must be provided with full body PPEs on war footing

7. Institutional quarantine facility must be organised for pourakarmikas who have tested positive for coronavirus

8. All pending payments, including transport allowance, must be disbursed to the workers immediately

9. Set up a helpline for pourakarmikas to lodge their grievances during the time of the pandemic

10. Create awareness on the spread of COVID-19 and the precautionary measures to be adopted by pourakarmikas, along with providing them with all information pertaining to hospitals, care centres, quarantine facilities, method of quarantine, among other necessary details.

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