Cleaner’s Death Highlights Lack of Safety Protections

Cleaner’s Death Highlights Lack of Safety Protections

At a funeral service in Lima, Peru, dozens of street cleaners yesterday mourned the death of their colleague, Rosa Mamani Apaza, a street cleaner who was killed on the job August 29 by stray gunfire as bullets flew nearby during an apparent late morning robbery. Several other bystanders were injured.

Peru, street cleaner, Solidarity Center, human rights, occupational safety and health, unionsMamani, 44, worked for more than 30 years at a company that had been contracted by the city of Lima, cleaning sidewalks and streets in the city’s historic Jirón de la Union, where she was killed, one block from presidential palace.

She supported her two children, ages 12 and 17, and had migrated to Lima from Puno, a town in southeastern Peru, for better job opportunities.

Mamani “was a woman who always fought for her rights,” says Raúl Oviedo, secretary general of SITOBUR, the union that represents service workers at Innova Ambiental, the company where Mamani worked. “She always looked to improve working conditions.”

Oviedo discussed the importance of her work, which helped “maintain public health for the inhabitants of Lima.” Yet union leaders say the company, which employs 1,200 workers, the vast majority of whom are women, has not taken steps to secure the safety of its employees, who are on temporary contracts even though the country’s labor laws stipulate they should be permanent.

Even as mourners gathered at Mamani’s funeral, Innova fired six cleaners. Innova is owned by Brazilian Grupo Solvi, which owns 30 cleaning companies in Brazil.

Further, the city of Lima does not have a contract with Innova, a situation that further increases the workers’ precarity.

Street Workers Want Company to Address Harsh Working Conditions

Apaza Ordóñez, president of Peru’s congressional Labor Commission, decried the poor working conditions of the public-sector street cleaners and demanded the company detail the security measures it provides workers.

“There are responsibilities and measures that should be taken immediately,” he said in a statement.

Public-sector cleaners like Mamani are exposed to daily hazards on the job, including sexual harassment and long exposure to harsh weather, and must handle dangerous equipment, such as trash compactors. SITOBUR, which tweets about the conditions workers face, was recently blocked by the city from its Twitter feed.

In July, workers waged a brief strike, demanding the company provide safe and functional tools and protective equipment, as well as access to bathrooms for women cleaners and access to lunchrooms. Workers also say they have difficulty taking sick leave.

The Solidarity Center is conducting a research project with SITOBUR to document the most common forms of gender-based violence street cleaners face on the job. This data, along with strategies for women workers facing gender-based violence in the export-oriented agriculture and health sectors, will inform recommendations for improving national-level policies to strengthen prevention and penalties and integrate best practices in workplaces.

Ong Kay: The Real Story behind Siem Reap

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Cambodia’s Siem Reap temple complex draws millions of tourists each year. But what most tourists do not see are the restoration workers like Ong Kay, who are paid low wages and toil under the hot sun without safety clothing or equipment to protect against falling stones and other hazards.

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Solidarity Center Safety Training: Empowering Workers

Solidarity Center Safety Training: Empowering Workers

In Dhaka, Bangladesh, this week, 50 children held torches alight, “beacons of life” to mark the four-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,130 garment workers—including their parents. Together with the National Garment Workers Federation (NGWF), which sponsored the event, the orphaned children prayed for their parents and stood vigil outside the Dhaka Press Club as union leaders vowed to never compromise when it comes to worker safety.

The Rana Plaza building, which housed five garment factories, collapsed April 24, 2013. Although the workers, mostly women, were evacuated because of cracks in the building the day before, managers forced workers into the building the next day, threatening their jobs if they failed to do so. Some 2,500 garment workers were injured—many of them losing limbs, and many more severely traumatized.

“If there was a union at Rana Plaza, (the collapse) may not have happened,” says Mohammad Ronju, a long-time organizer with the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation (BIGUF).

Garment Workers Empowered through Solidarity Center Safety Training

On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, as workers across the globe remember the dead and vow to fight for the living, a new Solidarity Center video highlights how Bangladesh garment workers are forming unions at considerable risk and negotiating for safer workplaces, better working conditions and dignity and respect on the job.

And many are doing so with the support of the Solidarity Center, which provides workers with the tools they need to improve their working and living conditions through a collective voice so that tragedies like Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Fashions factory fire never happen again. For instance, through Solidarity Center fire safety training, garment workers learn how to protect themselves and their workplaces, and advocate for safety and health improvements.

“After we completed 10 days of (fire safety) training, we could identify the risks around us,” union leader Saiful Islam says in the video. Following the training, Saiful and his co-workers talked with management and, ultimately, fire doors were installed and the building underwent fire and safety checks.

“We are able to talk to management about our different demands,” he says. “If there were no union, all these things would not be possible. A union is here, so these things are possible.”

Tazreen Fire Survivors: ‘Our Suffering Has Just Started’

Tazreen Fire Survivors: ‘Our Suffering Has Just Started’

“You have forgotten the Tazreen fire incident but our actual suffering has just started,” says Anju, who experienced severe head, eye and other bodily injuries during the fatal Tazreen Fashions Ltd. fire in Bangladesh that killed 112 garment workers.

Survivors of the November 24, 2012, Tazreen fire who recently talked with Solidarity Center staff in Bangladesh say they endure daily physical and emotional pain and in many cases, have little or no means of financial support because they cannot work. Some, like Anju, who is unable to work, have never received compensation for their injuries.

Bangladesh’s $25 billion garment industry fuels the country’s economy, with ready-made garments accounting for nearly four-fifths of exports. Yet many of the country’s 4 million garment workers, most of whom are women, still work in dangerous, often deadly conditions. Since the Tazreen fire, some 34 garment workers have died and 985 have been injured in 91 fire incidents, according to data collected by Solidarity Center staff in Dhaka, the capital.

Some 80 percent of export-oriented ready made garment (RMG) factories in Bangladesh need improvement in fire and electrical safety standards, despite a government finding most were safe, according to a recent International Labor Organization (ILO) report.

The Solidarity Center has had an on-the-ground presence in Bangladesh for more than a decade. Through Solidarity Center fire safety trainings for union leaders and workers, garment workers learn to identify and correct problems at their worksites. But fewer than 3 percent of the 5,000 garment factories in Bangladesh have a union. ” Despite workers’ efforts to form unions, in 2015 alone the Bangladeshi government has rejected more than 50 registration applications—many for unfair  or arbitrary reasons—while only 61 have been successful. The rejections have jumped significantly from 2014, when 273 unions applied and 66 were rejected.

So that the world does not forget, here is the story of Anju and others who survived the Tazreen fire.

Photos: Solidarity Center/Mushfique Wadud

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