A meeting to engage and undertake training on the rights of waste workers in Tanzania was held on 5-6 August 2022 in conjunction with the Tanzania Local Government Workers Union (TALGWU) under the FORSA-sponsored project “Organising and building the capacity of workers in the Waste Management Sector” which is a solidarity project funded by the Irish PSI affiliate FORSA. TALGWU is PSI's affiliate that organises workers in local governments including waste management workers.
The meeting began with a site visit to get first-hand experience of the working conditions of waste workers in their workplaces. Four sites were visited, including the biggest dumpsite in Dar-Es-Salaam. Interactions with the waste workers in the dumpsite revealed several challenges that affect both government-employed workers and contract/causal waste pickers.
One of them pointed out that they have to use their meagre pay to buy protective gears like gloves and boots. Additionally, they were not under any medical care like some other government workers, which puts them at great health risk.
Many women who work in the dumpsite do so to support their families. During the interview, one waste worker lamented the treatment they received and the public opinion that had labelled them as "dirty people, who don't understand, who seem to have lost their minds", which was a totally false perception. He said that "it is through this work that is considered dirty that I find the money to educate my son and support my wife. They should learn to treat us with dignity.”
It should be recalled that in 2018, Dar recorded a massive outbreak of cholera. However, these workers whose jobs are not valued have done a tremendous work in cleaning and maintaining the hygiene of this big city. As noted by one of the health officers, Dar Es Salam generates close to over 4700 tonnes of waste, only 50% are collected and dumped as per the city regulations, the rest is dumped illegally. We witnessed this in the dump site where medical waste meant to be disposed of elsewhere ended up on the dumpsite. A waste pickers came across it as he shifted through the rubble, picks it up by hand without gloves, we wonder what happens if that syringe is infected and accidentally pricks him. We ask them about their health, and they answer with humour, but with great sadness “ here we don’t fall sick, we just die like everyone else”. What other response would one expect other than that, considering that they have no access to health facilities to be able to check their health status?
We met some of the women who must wake up early in the morning to keep the streets clean. A majority of them are elderly and widows. When they saw us, one of them came running, “What can you people do to help improve our welfare? I have rent to pay, kids to take to school, I have to leave home early in the morning, however, for the last two months, this is the third month, they have not paid me, is that fair given the nature of work that we do?
I reached out to the General Secretary, who listens and promises to make a follow up with relevant stakeholders over the same. The supervisor informs us how they lost one of their colleagues the previous month, who was knocked by a motorist while she was sweeping. Can we teach the masses and motorists to respect our jobs, we are always at risk, we have few reflectors, including the tools we need to use, yet our lives are not valued even by the masses. They pour dirty water on the roads; the health inspectors need to intervene! He concludes by noting that some of the women are at risk of gender-based violence as they have to leave their homes that are located many kilometres away from the workplace, to begin work by 6am. Among the women employed by the municipality, one decried the low pay and poor working conditions. I have to use my home clothes to undertake this work. See how dirty my clothes become, yet I am not provided with PPEs. Please talk to the government to consider increasing our salaries just like other workers.
We gave them overalls with reflectors and gloves and the smile on their faces is not something I would want to take away. One of them exclaims, “Now I look like a real worker!”
On the first day, the workshop engaged with waste workers leaders at supervisory level to discuss the challenges faced, the implications in terms of the decent work agenda, the rights of waste workers and the way forward in terms of improving and ensuring decent work for waste workers in the country.
On the second day, the workshop moved to the shop level, to allow as many workers as possible to attend and learn about their rights, the importance of forming and joining a trade union. TALGWU representatives took them through the power of unions, including collective bargaining to improve their welfare, recognition as an important sector within the public services. in conclusion, the waster workers agreed to be part of TALGWU and requested that a branch be established at their workplace to facilitate the management of their members' issues.
The conclusion is astonishing when you realise that this is the first time an organisation has given them PPEs. Many come to take pictures and never come back, but PSI has made history by not only being the first to give them PPE, but also by sitting down with them in this environment and educating them about their rights as workers and about an important sector of the economy.
In his submission, the General Secretary, Comrade Rashid Mtima promised that the union will take up their issues with the various stakeholders, including the contractors that benefit from the dumpsite. Engagement with all stakeholders will be undertaken to address a number of issues discussed. In addition, the government should oblige all companies that benefit from the waste to pay a specific fee to improve the welfare of the waste workers in terms of PPE, medical coverage, etc.
As noted by Comrade Rashid, the General Secretary for TALGWU, "On behalf of TALGWU leadership and management I would like to extend a special thanks to PSI, FORSA, and other comrades who by one way or another facilitated and made this first ever waste management activity in Dar es Salaam happen.
“By issuing PPEs the activity directly touched the hearts of people working on waste management, PPE have been their dream that finally came true on that activity, we again thank you for that! TALGWU being a stakeholder advocating for a good working environment, we promise to honour this initiative and day by day champion the necessary campaigns as far as improving the working environment for the said sector.
“Through the recent activity TALGWU, as a trade union, also saw a potential to recruit and gain more members and we will definitely capitalise on the opportunity. Together we can improve and create a conducive working environment for waste management workers."
The aim of the public engagement was to give a challenge to the Government of Tanzania to take up the issue of providing decent jobs to the waste workers including provisions of PPEs.