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Unpaid salaries: When sweepers refused to sweep Lagos

By Monsuru Olowoopejo

LAGOS—THE disruption of activities at Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s office, Ikeja, by street sweepers has exposed several months of running battles between street sweepers, the State Government and Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, VSS, over unpaid salaries, lack of tools and other unfair labour practices that had allegedly crippled waste collection in the state.

•Sweepers protesting at the Lagos State Governor's office, Alausa, Ikeja
•Sweepers protesting at the Lagos State Governor’s office, Alausa, Ikeja

The protest, last Monday, came a year after the State Government replaced the Private Sector Participant, PSP, operators with an international firm, to manage waste collection in Lagos State.

After replacing the PSP, the State Government and the firm engaged 8,500 street sweepers and others to restore cleanliness to Lagos.

But the state has returned to a state of filth as refuse dots nooks and crannies of the state.

Sweepers lament poor welfare package

But eight months after, the staff lament the shabby treatment meted out to them by Visionscape, saying they have not been treated fairly at all.

Atobiloye Olajide, who spoke on behalf of the aggrieved sweepers, said the company failed to provide basic equipment and welfare needed for the staff to remove waste from the roads across the state.

Olajide accused the Lagos State Ministry of the Environment of compounding their problems, saying the ministry did not protect them.

Another sweeper, Ugochukwu Gift alleged that at the point of employment, they were promised loan packages, general health and accident insurance but unfortunately, even the brooms used for sweeping were being purchased by the sweepers themselves.

A pregnant sweeper, Oluwatosin Oduntan, who spoke with tears, described the attitude of the Visionscape officials as unprofessional, revealing that one of the sweepers was denied financial assistance until death after being knocked down by a vehicle.

According to her, “they promised accident insurance but we were surprised that when one of us was knocked down by a vehicle, the company didn’t respond till the man died.”

She lamented that another cleaner was involved in an accident and suffered broken bones but the company didn’t respond.

Visionscape reacts

Reacting, the environmental firm described the salary claim as ‘false and unfounded,’ even as it alleged that the protesters were not their staff.

According to the firm, the protesters were Community Sanitation Workers, CWS, apparently engaged by the state government.

The company said that all enquiries regarding the CSWs should be directed to the Ministry of Environment/Public Utility Monitoring Assurance Unit, PUMAU.

The VSS CEO, John Irvine said: “Whilst we cannot ascertain the information that has been published, we can confirm that no Visionscape staff’s  salaries have ever been compromised in any way.”

Irvine argued that the company continues to guarantee the complete safety and security of its employees with the highest levels of protection and equipment.

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