pictures of workers carrying signs
Qasim is a resident of Irbid governorate in Jordan. When the clock strikes five in the evening, he starts his daily work shift as a garbage collector. For the next eight hours he will be going up and down a step in the back of a truck collecting and emptying trash cans. Qassim has not yet forgotten the trauma of his accident which left him with a shattered left knee and kept him hospitalised for weeks and still seeking treatment and rehabilitation months after.
Qasim is one of more than 15000 sanitation workers in Jordan who suffer continuously from dangerous working conditions, and are therefore highly prone to accidents since they tend to work without any health and safety provisions or even have access to protective clothing.
This was revealed by an investigative report that was based on face-to-face interviews with 30 sanitary workers from the Greater Amman area and provinces beyond.
Qasim fell off a refuse compactor truck due to a defect in the side stairs, which he was standing on, only to be run over by the same compressor without the driver’s knowledge. He was taken to Princess Basma Government Hospital where platinum pins were used to repair his injured leg. After only two weeks of treatment, the municipality refused to extend his sick leave and denied him financial help for his physiotherapy rehabilitation.
Thereafter, any absence from work would result in a cut in his salary of 220 Dinars a month (approximately $310).
The mayor of Irbid, Hussein Bani Hani, acknowledges the risk factor associated with this profession, especially for those operating machinery such as compactor’s trucks. Workers in this sector risk having their fingers cut off, or being pulled into the compactor. He says, “There are one or two injuries every month as well as deadly accidents due to mistakes by the workers.”
Bani Hani asserts that the workers receive two weeks training at the beginning of their appointment in addition to two to three training sessions annually. This was denied by the thirty workers we interviewed, including Qasim. They claimed that their training at the beginning of their appointment consisted of actual working days with some strict supervision. During that time or even afterward they did not receive any instructions related to road safety practices or any basic First Aid training.
Two sanitary workers died and 153 were injured in Amman in 2018. The number of injuries increases if you add other municipalities, to 336 injuries and three fatalities, according to Musa Subaihi, Director of the Media Centre of the Social Security Corporation. Subaihi believes that these numbers reflect the acute lack of proper safety measures that protect employees while performing their job.
From 2015 to 2019, the number of deaths increased and reached 10 Jordanian workers and one foreign worker. According to Khuloud Ghunaimat, Media Director at the Social Security Corporation, the number of injuries recorded reached 213 last year.
A work injury resulted in the death of one worker.
Over the course of 2019 and 2020, the investigator captured on camera sanitation employees being transported to their workplaces without safety equipment in Greater Amman Municipality, and municipalities beyond the capital.
Former member of the Bar Association, Nour Al-Imam, says that the lack of safety precautions for sanitation workers made them vulnerable to infectious diseases. And this is a clear violation of the labour law and of employees basic right while at work. The provisions of Article (78) of Labour Law No. (8) of 1996 stipulates that personal protective equipment for workers should be good enough to remove and reduce danger or harm and prevent diseases to the permitted safety levels. This includes clothing, glasses, gloves, shoes, etc. Before employing them, workers should be informed of the risks associated with their profession and the protective measures they must apply.
Problems do not stop at their risk of injury, as workers are also deprived of taking time off, and their wages are axed (in case of absence due to injury). This is in addition to complications suffered during the treatment period and while they are filing claims for compensation. This is especially felt by workers on short term contracts or daily laborers.
Muhammad* is forty years old and a worker assigned to the municipality of Sweimah in the Balqa governorate. He has not had any salary increase for 14 years and still earns 300 Jordanian Dinar per month (approximately $420). He recounts how he sustained a fracture when he was trying to climb down the ladder on the side of the truck, and it gave way. One of his relatives had to intervene and take him to hospital in his car.
Mayor Muhammad Al-Ja’arat, denies the occurrence of “serious” injuries to sanitation workers and used the example of one of the workers sustaining a severed finger, sliced off by the trash compactor. Muhammad contradicted this and said, in his case, he had submitted medical reports confirming that he had sustained a fracture to his foot. There was another case of his colleague who had also contracted an intestinal disease while handling waste material.
Nazir Obeidat, a pulmonologist, says that sanitation workers are exposed to infections like hepatitis as a result of working with refuse. This risk needs flagging up and requires raising the health awareness of workers and the need for them to take vaccines against influenza/hepatitis at the beginning of every winter season.
pictures of workers carrying signs
Samer* is a twenty-year-old whose work requires weeding, painting, and moving rocks. After 100 continuous days of work without leave, he tried to change his job because he had suffered a slipped disc in his neck and back. He was unable to do so because he feared that he would be dismissed from the service or that his wages would be cut.
The mayor of Al-Shifa area, Ibrahim Gharaybeh, admitted that sanitation workers do not receive proper training, therefore, they suffer minor injuries here and there. But he claim that those workers are compensated with annual leave, paid vacations and bonuses.
Muhammad Al-Titi, the Executive Director of the Environment Department at Greater Amman Municipality stresses that it is important to train workers on public safety issues. He points out that employees of the municipality do get these. This is in addition to the periodic inspection sessions of the workers and a comprehensive examination before they are appointed.
While we were preparing this investigation, a worker was run over and died while working at night without appropriate road signs warning drivers that “workers at work” were operating in the area. Another worker had to have his foot amputated after a severe fall while at work.
In 2015, Greater Amman Municipality created the Public Safety Department. Its primary mission was to provide a safe work environment, to maintain the safety of employees in the field and to provide all the necessary means and equipment that will keep them safe. In that same year, the number of deaths due to work injuries reached 135 in the Kingdom.
Despite this, sanitation workers have continued to be injured. This forced them to stage a sit-in, at the Ministry of Municipalities in 2018 to demand better working conditions. Their demands included improving their living conditions and developing strategies that mitigate dangerous work conditions and practices. They also demanded that a safety culture should be developed among workers and supervisors. The Ministry responded to these demands by raising the wages of all workers by 20 Jordanian Dinars a month, without specifically targeting sanitation workers. According to Ahmad Al-Sa’adi, president of the Federation of Trade Unions for Municipal Workers, none of the promises relating to the safety aspect of the workplace were implemented.
On March 17, 2020, the Jordanian government suspended (physical) work at government institutions and departments across the country and imposed a home quarantine on citizens. It also prohibited the gathering of more than 10 people in order to control the spread of covid-19. Essential sectors workers such as sanitation, were excluded from these measures.
The camera of the investigator captured the transportation of more than 10 sanitation workers in a pick up truck in the Greater Salt Municipality without the most basic occupational safety equipment.
In February 2021, ARIJ has sent many formal letters to Greater Amman Municipality and to the Ministry of Local Administration requesting clarification about employees’ rights and current practices. To date, ARIJ has not received any answers that address the reality of sanitation employees’ working conditions, the methods of transporting them, or the safety equipment afforded to them. The excuse for not answering our queries was the authorities preoccupation with dealing with the pandemic.