Toilet cleaners lack vaccinations and safety clothes in Philippi

Workers fear losing their jobs if they complain to management

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Photo of a cleaner next o a row of toilets
A worker cleaning toilets in Marikana, Philippi. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

Toilet cleaners should be issued with overalls, masks, safety boots and rubber gloves. But 15 cleaners in Philippi, employed in the City of Cape Town’s Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), which is supervised by a contracted company, say they have insufficient protection.

GroundUp saw the workers cleaning chemical toilets without overall tops. Some didn’t have gloves, and had bought themselves surgical gloves. One worker was cleaning toilets without safety boots or gloves.

Most of the 370 toilets, shared by nearly 60,000 people in the area, were very dirty and in the heat the smell of sewage was pungent.

The cleaners began six-month contracts on 6 February. They are each given a broom and a 500ml bottle of cleaning chemicals to service at least 24 toilets a day in Marikana. Workers who spoke to GroundUp did not want their names quoted for fear of losing their jobs.

“We have to clean toilets like this with the same gloves and the same masks everyday,” said a worker pointing to a filthy toilet stall filled with flies.

Workers only get one overall.

“If our uniform gets dirty, we have to rush home to wash it for the next day. It’s not good to work like this, but what can we do? There are no other jobs,” she said.

Another worker said, “I have to use a bucket from my own house to fetch water. The taps around here are broken, so we have to walk a distance to get water.”

“We didn’t even get the [inoculation] injection before we started working, like the group before us,” a worker said.

GroundUp asked the City late on Monday about inoculations. On Tuesday, the cleaners were given their injections.

The City’s acting Mayoral Committee Member for Informal Settlements, Water and Waste Services, and Energy, Stuart Diamond, said, “It is a Hepatitis B vaccination. The City has also instructed that all workers who have not yet been vaccinated be withdrawn from the service until this is rectified.”

On workers’ fear of victimisation if they spoke out, Diamond said workers were protected against unfair dismissal. “Should they experience unfair dismissal, there is legal recourse for them,” he said.

When asked if the City was considering installing full flush toilets as suggested by the cleaners, Diamond said: “Marikana was established pursuant to an illegal land invasion of private land and, as such, the City can only legally provide temporary services.”

TOPICS:  Sanitation

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