By Irheil Al-Khalidi
Qasim is a resident of Irbid governorate. When the clock strikes five in the evening, he starts his daily shift. His job entails standing on the worn-out rear steps of the garbage truck, precariously hanging on there, in the same position, for more than eight hours a day. He still has not forgotten the trauma of his fall which left him with a shattered left knee that kept him in the hospital for weeks and for which he is still undergoing treatment.
Qasim is one of the more than 15,000 sanitation workers in Jordan who are continuously subjected to dangerous accidents and working conditions without the provision of health and safety measures or protective clothing. Moreover, Qasim and his fellow workers do not receive adequate training or clear instructions. This became clear from investigative research involving face-to-face interviews with 30 workers, from the employees of the Greater Amman Municipality who work within the boundaries of the capital and in other governorates.
Qasim fell off a refuse compactor due to a defect in the side stairs, which he was hanging on to, only to be then 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 leave and finance his physiotherapy sessions. Thereafter, any absence from work would result in a cut in his salary of 220 Dinars a month, that is $310.
The mayor of Irbid, Hussein Bani Hani, acknowledges the risk factor of the profession, especially for those who work with machines or compactors. There are risks of having their fingers cut off or being pulled into the compactor. He says, “There are one or two injuries every month as well as deaths due to mistakes by individuals.”
Bani Hani asserts that the workers receive training courses for two weeks at the beginning of their appointment in addition to two to three training sessions annually. This was denied by the thirty workers who we interviewed, including Qasim. They claimed that their training at the beginning of their appointment consisted of actual working days with some strict supervision. They did not receive any instructions related to road risks or to First Aid during that time or after.
Two workers died and 153 were injured in Amman in 2018. The number of injuries in governorates generally went up to 336 and there were three fatalities, according to Musa Subaihi, Director of the Media Center of the Social Security Corporation. Subaihi believes that these numbers are indicators of the acute lack of proper safety precautions that employees are provided with while performing their job.
From 2015 to 2019, the number of deaths increased and reached 10 Jordanian workers and one worker of another Arab nationality. According to Khuloud Ghunaimat, Media Director at the Social Security Corporation, last year, the number of injuries reached 213.
Over the course of 2019 and 2020, the investigator captured on camera the transportation of sanitation workers to their workplaces without safety equipment in the municipalities and in the Greater Amman Municipality.
Former member of the Bar Association, Nour Al-Imam, says that the lack of safety precautions for sanitation workers made them vulnerable to diseases. This is a clear violation of the labor law and of their rights at work. The provisions of Article (78) of Labor Law No. (8) of 1996 stipulate 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 of their profession and the protective measures they must take.
Problems do not stop upon exposure to injury, as workers are also deprived of time off, and their wages are axed. This is in addition to complications during the treatment period and while they are filing claims for compensation, especially for those who work on the per diem and contract systems.
A video showing a sanitation worker in Irbid
Muhammad* is forty years old and a worker assigned to the municipality of Sweimah in the Balqa governorate. He has not received a raise on his 300 Dinar salary, whatsoever, in 14 years of work. 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 take him to the 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 in his foot. There was another case of his colleague who had also contracted an intestinal disease as a result of working with waste.
Nazir Obeidat is a pulmonologist. He 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 awareness of workers on health issues and the need for them to take vaccines against influenza/hepatitis at the beginning of every winter season.
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 work because he had developed 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 docked.
The mayor of Al-Shifa, Ibrahim Gharaybeh, confirms that sanitation workers do not receive training courses and, therefore, they suffer minor injuries. To compensate, they get bonuses, annual leave, and paid vacation.
Muhammad Al-Titi, the Executive Director of the Environment at the Greater Amman Municipality stresses that it is important for workers to take courses and public safety instruction. He points out that workers 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 died because of the unavailability of road signs warning drivers that he was working on the road at night, and therefore, he was tragically run over. This is in addition to another worker having to have his foot amputated after a severe fall while at work.
An interview with the director of Jordan Labor Watch Phenix , Ahmad Awad.
In 2015, the Greater Amman Municipality created the Public Safety Department. Its primary mission is to provide a safe work environment to maintain the safety of workers 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.
Instructions on protecting workers from workplace hazards
Despite this, sanitation workers have continued to be injured. This forced them to stage a sit-in in front of the Ministry of Municipalities in 2018 to demand their rights. Their demands included improving their living conditions and developing strategies that mitigate dangerous work conditions and practices. They also demanded that a culture of safety 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.
Video of Ahmad Al-Sa’adi
Precautions and safety measures due to the Coronavirus has bypassed sanitation workers
On March 17 of last year, the Jordanian government announced the suspension of official institutions and departments and imposed a home quarantine on citizens. It also prohibited the gathering of more than 10 people in order to control the spread of the Coronavirus. Workers in essential service sectors, such as sanitation workers were excluded from these measures.
The camera of the investigator captured on film more than 10 workers being transported without the simplest occupational safety equipment in the back of a pick-up truck in the Greater Salt Municipality.
Workers of the Ramtha municipality as they closed the streets while implementing the precautionary measure of a comprehensive curfew in the city.
Starting in February of this year, ARIJ sent many formal letters to the Greater Amman Municipality and to the Ministry of Local Administration. To date, we have not received any responses that address the reality of the working conditions of the sanitation workers’ nor the methods of transporting them or providing them with safety equipment. All this comes under the pretext of a preoccupation with the Coronavirus crisis.
This investigation was carried out with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ).
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.
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