COVID-19: Lack of protective gears puts lives of TN sanitation staff in peril

Sanitation workers are on the front lines of fight against COVID-19 pandemic, but are deprived of even essentials like masks and hand sanitisers

Though major civic bodies have provided some protective gears to the sanitation staff, workers employed under municipalities are the most affected. Photo: PTI

When healthcare workers are demanding the Tamil Nadu government to provide them with sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), another group on the front lines of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is apparently left the lurch.

Around two lakh sanitation workers are being employed in the state and many of them are on contracts. Generally, most civic bodies in the state provide them with gloves, masks and overcoats. But mostly these equipment go unused as they are either oversized or undersized.

When the government has not taken any step to address this issue, the COVID-19 outbreak has put their lives in peril. Many sanitation workers are deprived of even essentials like masks and hand sanitisers.

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Though major civic bodies like the Greater Chennai Corporation have provided some protective gears to the sanitation staff, workers employed under municipalities are the most affected.

Take for example Poonamallee, a municipality in Tiruvallur district. Most of its sanitation workers collect garbage with their bare hands. They don’t wear any mask either. “Always there exists a shortage of masks. So, some are provided with masks and the others are left out,” a sanitation worker in the municipality told The Federal.
She added that they were neither given sanitisers nor soaps. “We wash our hands only with water.”
However, Vasanthi, the commissioner of Poonamallee municipality, said they had been taking all steps to ensure the safety of the sanitation staff. “Before they leave for work, we make sure that they clean their hands with sanitiser. We repeat it when they return,” she said.
Though workers are given masks, they feel it uncomfortable to wear, she said. “But we make them aware about wearing masks,” said Vasanthi.
As many sanitation workers come from faraway places, they find it difficult during the lockdown, said P Srinivasan, the general secretary of Senkodi Federation of Conservancy Workers. Since most of the workers are on contract, they don’t have ID cards and face harassment by the police, he said.
So, we demanded the government to provide transportation facilities to pick and drop them back. The government too has met our demand to some extent, he said. “We were told that the Chennai Corporation had allocated ₹10 lakh to each zone for the benefit of sanitation workers. What about those working beyond the Corporation limits,” he asked.
Interestingly, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami had only last week announced that thuppuravu paniyalargal (sanitation workers) would henceforth be called thooimai paniyalargal (cleanliness workers).
With a change in the nomenclature, they hope for one in the measures taken for their safety too.
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