Is this the dirtiest job in Cape Town?

| Text by Zintle Swana. Photos by Masixole Feni.
Prudence Brink, Carmelita Johnson and Francious Beukes eat their lunch outside the Airport Industria depot where they wash portable toilets.

It’s midday and in 29 degree heat Sannicare contract workers Prudence Brink, Carmelita Johnson and Francious Beukes are having lunch, sitting on empty portable toilets in front of the depot at Airport Industria where thousands of toilets are cleaned daily.

The smell is unbearable and there are flies all around them that they chase away during their meal. But, says Brink, there is nowhere else to have lunch.

“I do not have any other choice than forcing myself to get used to it,” she says.

The toilets are collected from informal settlements on Tuesdays and Thursdays and cleaned at the Borcherd’s Quarry depot at Airport Industria on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Brink, Johnson, Beukes and their colleagues work for Sannicare, which has a portable toilet cleaning contract for the City of Cape Town. They spend the whole day emptying and washing the portable toilets, sluicing the contents and the dirty water down a drain in the floor of the depot. At the end of their shift they have to leave without taking a shower.

There are showers at the depot, but the City of Cape Town keeps these locked and reserved for municipal employees. There is a canteen at the depot but it is also used by the City council employees only, and no contract worker is allowed to eat inside.

The Sannicare workers have to use a chemical toilet and have no shower.

The City says it is the responsibility of Sannicare to provide toilets, showers, a canteen, and other facilities for its employees.

“When you are working inside it gets all messy, you get wet all over,” says another worker, Nomsa Vundle. “Sometimes I work until 3pm, and as soon as I am finished working I run to the pre-school for my child with the smell from the depot on me because I don’t get a chance to go home first for a bath,” says Vundle.

Emptying and washing portable toilets at the Airport Industria depot.

Many of the Sannicare workers do not have running water at home either.

The workers are supplied with protective clothing but complain that they have nowhere to change, so they wear the clothing over their own clothes which get wet and dirty.

“I feel like my right to privacy is violated. I’m an adult and someone’s mother,” says a worker who prefers not to give her name. “To dress in public … I have been doing it for a few months but I can’t get used to it,” she says.

Sannicare employees are not allowed to use the showers and toilets at the Airport Industria depot.

The Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services, Councillor Ernest Sonnenberg, said the contract workers had vandalised the City’s facilities “on numerous occasions”.

“As well as stealing taps, they have broken through walls and set doors alight.”

He said it was up to Sannicare to provide facilities and suggested that staff report health and safety problems to their own management. Meanwhile, he said, the City would instruct Sannicare that no staff should eat or drink on any type of toilet while taking a break.

One of the contract workers confirmed that there had been vandalism at the depot. ​ ​ The contract workers earn R120 per eight hour shift, and work three days a week.

Thousands of portable toilets are brought to the depot weekly for emptying and cleaning.

Sannicare’s Operations Manager, Garnett Jefferies, said the company had offered to repair the Airport Industria showers and toilets and to maintain them. But the City had refused, he said. The City had also refused to allow Sannicare to provide mobile showers, because of a lack of space.

Jefferies said there was one shower for employees at Sannicare’s Parow site but this was not convenient for the Airport Industria employees.

“We are still waiting for the City of Cape Town to give us permission to use the current facilities that are at Borcherd’s Quarry or to allow us to put up our own mobile facilities,” he said.

Read Cllr Sonnenberg’s response.

TOPICS:  Labour Sanitation

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