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Working like an elephant, eating like an ant: The plight of refuse collectors

By Kingsley Adegboye
MALLAM Sani Abu (not real names) who hails from the northern part of the country, arrived Lagos two years ago in search of a means of livelihood. After a fruitless search which lasted over six months, Abu got a job with one of the PSP refuse collectors engaged by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, LAWMA.

Although the work of refuse collection and loading which is Abu’s daily routine is very risky due to its hazardous nature, he is managing to cope with the demands of the job while praying that something better comes up pretty soon.

Abu told Vanguard Features, VF, that his work schedule starts at 6.30am when he reports for duty and ends about 5 p.m. For all his efforts, Abu who is married but stays alone in Lagos since the income cannot cater for his family if they have to be with him, told VF that he receives a monthly salary of N15,000.

Giving further details of his work schedule, Abu said they (refuse collectors/loaders) work seven days a week, public holidays inclusive. The work involves carting away refuse from homes, business premises and companies and dumping them into the waiting trucks for onward disposal at refuse collection points.

Mallam Abu is not aware of any insurance cover in the event of any mishap arising from the job.

*Refuse collectors at a collection point

VF investigations revealed that in the course of  carrying out their daily activities, refuse collectors and loaders are exposed to a lot of hazards that are dangerous to their health and lives. Such hazards could come from chemical burns, disposable needles, broken glasses and falling objects from overloaded containers.

Hazards could also emanate from solid waste, contact with asbestos, inhalation of  dust and attacks by pests such as ants, flies, cockroaches and rodents. The inclement weather conditions which they usually work in, chokes from traffic smokes  and foul odours also affect the health of these refuse workers.

These hazardous substances can be contacted  through four sources – skin contact, especially through cuts and abrasions or through contact with the eye’s mucus membrane, ingestion through hand to mouth contact commonly experienced when eating, drinking or smoking, injection through sharp injuries and inhalation through the lungs.

The risks are however

reduced through the proper use of masks, gloves and goggles which refuse collectors are expected to wear while on duty.

Despite the high risk and hazardous nature of the job, refuse collectors are poorly remunerated. A refuse collector is  paid as low as N15, 000 per month while the refuse truck drivers receive between N35,000 and N40,000 and supervisors  N50,000 monthly.

Do these category of unskilled workers have good insurance covers in view of the hazardous nature of their jobs? VF checks revealed that where insurance exists, it is just to fulfill all righteousness.

LAWMA image maker,

Mrs. Shade Kadiri said the Authority has insurance cover for all refuse collectors it engages.

‘’LAWMA, as a regulatory body is to ensure that PSP operators comply with our standard of doing things which we have set for ourselves and the PSP operators with respect to refuse management in the state. PSP operators are expected to work out their modalities concerning insurance policy for their staff.

However, whether PSP operators have insurance covers for their staff or not, cannot be confirmed by us. Only the PSP operators can confirm to you whether they have insurance covers for their staff or not,” she told VF.

‘’As I said, we have insurance cover for all of  our workers. Also, we treat them and immunize them periodically against inhalation of putrefied substances and general diseases. We focus more on boosting their immunity to ensure that they are always in good health to be able to carry out their daily jobs.

Apart from insurance cover which is just to compensate for any accident, the greatest insurance cover we have for them is in prevention of accident because we don’t want them to be involved in accidents. This is why we provide reflective clothing for them. With this reflective clothing.It is expected that an oncoming motorist can site them from 300 metres away. It is a reflective clothing that reflects even at night.

‘’With this, we have reduced or eliminated completely cases of accident around them. Apart from that we make sure that we train them on how to clean the road and how to do the work in safe manners. They are trained to clean and face the oncoming vehicles so that they are in view when any vehicle is over speeding.

They are trained to understand that they are the only sane people on the road, while every other motorist is a potential mad person. In the event of an incident, we have qualified doctors, we have ambulances always on standby in case emergency’’, Mrs. Kadiri said.

Just like LAWMA, the Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, the umbrella body of PSP refuse collectors in the country, says it has insurance cover for its staff.

President of the over 350 member organisation,  Mr. Adegboyega Adepitan told VF that his group has put in place an insurance policy for its teeming staff because of the hazardous nature of refuse collection and disposal.

‘’We have four members of staff attached to each truck. That is, three loaders and one supervisor attached to a truck and they go out  daily to collect and dispose refuse. As  aresult of the hazardous nature of their job, we have arranged insurance cover  for them with Law Union and Rock Insurance Company. By this arrangement,  if any of them suffers an injury in the course of their daily business, the insurance company will settle the hospital bills,” he said. .

Details of the policy

Giving details of the policy, Mr. Adepitan said: In the event of permanent disability, the insurance company is expected to pay N250,000 to the staff who has suffered permanent injury, while in the event of death, each staff is expected to be paid N250,000.

We also have an insurance policy for the chief executive officers of PSP refuse operators, because we believe that in their daily dealings with refuse matters, they are bound to encounter some risks or challenges; they could be involved in an accident in the course of their operations”.

Continuing, he said: “We have not had cause to make any claims from the insurance firm because we have not had any case of accident so far. The insurance policy for the staff has just commenced this year. Though we don’t pray for accident, but if it happens, the victim or victims will be compensated. This is the essence of the insurance cover.”

On the remunerations for

the staff, Adepitan said that due to the elastic nature of the Nigerian labour market,  the workers are not paid according to their efforts. If the workers are paid according to their efforts and the nature of the work,  the operators will not make any money,” he said, adding that the PSP operators are not making much money because the state government has fixed rates for carting away refuse.

‘’We cannot collect above government’s rate, and if we have to  pay our staff salaries that are commensurate with their inputs, the operators will not be able to cope with the business. However, we still pay the loaders not less than N15,000 per month while drivers receive between N35,000 and N40,000 per month.

The supervisors collect N50,000 monthly. But as I said before, Nigeria is not like the developed world where the more hazardous the nature of a job, the higher the remuneration. Under normal circumstances, our workers should earn more than they do presently, but we have to work within the environment we find ourselves.

Charging economic rate

“We are not permitted to charge economic rate because our business is more of social responsibility than profit making. And looking at their pay generally, I think we are very fair to them if one considers what comes to us as our own margins at the end of the day. But like I said, their pay is not commensurate with their efforts”, he noted.

On the performance of the staff, he said they are doing their best. “The problem is that the loaders who are mostly from the northern part of the country are not stable. “During the harvest season, they leave for their various states, and we have to manage with what we have.

The longest period they can work with you is probably six months, and for about three months they are away for harvesting in the north. And as you know, there is no dignity of labour in Nigeria. They will tell you this job is too dirty for them to do, and those that are ready to do it are not stable. So, this is our major challenge in the business,” he explained.

Commenting on the

management of waste in Lagos generally, he said there has been a tremendous improvement since  the government engaged the services of PSP to collect and dispose refuse on behalf of the government. He added that unlike what it used to be, mountains of refuse which used to adorn the streets of Lagos, have virtually disappeared.

“What you probably see now is litters of refuse which before you know it has been cleared by refuse collectors. This is because we go from house to house and from street to street to collect refuse to dump sites.

As at today, we are collecting about 10,000 tonnes of refuse everyday. This is to tell you the extent of what we are doing, although we have not got where we are going yet. We are looking forward to a time when you won’t see   refuse litteringour streets; that is our ultimate desire,” he said.

Narrating his experience, a refuse collector who refused to disclose his identity told this reporter that “the major problem we face is just that the longer the dirt stays out, the more it attracts pests smells terribly because of decomposition which poses a problem to our health.”

The reuse collector was also not happy about the pay for work done. According to him, “it’s just not enough.” Adding that it’s inadequate. “Those of us doing this job are in it because of the economic hardship in the country.Imagine getting N15,000 for just a hazardous work but what can one do when there are no jobs, one has to make do with what one can find.

It’s better than going  into armed robbery.” Our refuse collector was however quick to inform that he didn’t intend to stay on the job for long, a feature that has characterised the job. For many refuse collector the longest period they stay on the job is two months as they move on in search of better renumeration.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.