Street cleaners suspend strike after agreement with the government

Published on 15 March 2012 in Health & Environment
Malak Shaher (photographer), Muaadh Al-Maqtari (author)

Malak Shaher


Muaadh Al-Maqtari

Cleaners say if the government didn’t recruit them by March 21, they will resume their strike. Malak Shaher

Cleaners say if the government didn’t recruit them by March 21, they will resume their strike. Malak Shaher

Months of accumulated garbage in Sana’a started to be cleared away on Saturday as cleaning workers suspended their strike until the 21st March. The cleaning campaign will target the ten most seriously affected areas across the capital.

The Secretary-General of the Cleaning Workers’ Syndicate, Mr. Jabri Ahmed Darwish, told the Yemen Times that the cleaning campaign was part of a comprehensive agreement with the Yemeni government. The agreement was signed at the beginning of the year by representatives of the cleaning workers and the Prime Minister, Muhammed Salim Basindwa.

Darwish said that the old city of Sana’a was the first of ten critical areas where the cleanup has begun. Other regions that will be focused on include Azal, Al-Safiya, Al-Qadisiya, Al-Wahda, Tahreer, Ma’een, and the Airport area.

Tons of piled garbage formed a strong base for negotiations between the cleaning workers and the government. It is the first time in Yemen that the Prime Minister has meet Yemeni cleaning workers and signed an agreement with them that strikes a balance between their rights and their duties.

The prime minister met the cleaning workers in Sana’a last February after cleaning operations had been completely stopped for over ten days.

Basindawa told the cleaning workers: “If I do not deliver on my promise to officially employ you, you can bring back all the garbage to where it is now.”

Ali M. Ahmed, a cleaning worker, says that he has been an unofficially employed cleaning worker for 14 years. He said that the agreement with the government covered several points, including “health insurance for cleaning workers, that their jobs will be officially approved no later than the 21st March, and half the salary for each worker will be provided before they start work.”

Based on this agreement, cleaning workers have suspended their strike and started cleaning parts of the capital. The critical regions were identified through direct negotiations with the government, in particular the Minister of Finance, Mr. Sukhr Al-Wajeeh, and Head of the Local Council in the Sana’a, Mr. Ameen Jama’an.

The cleaning workers resumed their duties once they received half their owed salary, however, they say its continuation depends upon them obtaining official employment.

According to Darwish, the procedures for implementing the agreement are not proceeding as agreed. The financial commitment for cleaners to be officially employed has not yet been made, making some cleaners fear the government is evading the implementation of the agreement.

Another serious problem is that many of the cleaning vehicles are broken down.

“The number of Hyundai garbage vehicles that don’t work out-number those  garbage vehicles that do. The Cleaning Fund does not maintain these machines,” Darwish said.

Environmental danger

There is no monitoring of the performance of the Cleaning Fund in Sana’a, so officials from the General Authority of Environment Protection (GAEP) say that their responsibility is limited only to environmental awareness.

“In the past, GAEP was called the Supreme Environment Council and the Cleaning Fund in Sana’a was part of it,” said Murad Abdulaziz, a GAEP staff member.

According to the Director of Research and Studies at GAEP, Mona Al-Watari, the garbage has been sitting so long that it has started to ferment in the rains, and its toxicity has increased due to interactions between materials.

“The piled garbage today forms a breeding ground for diseases in many parts of Sana’a, and provides a favorable environment for harmful insects and odors,” Al-Watari said.

Entisar Al-Yami, director of the GAEP library, said that the burning of garbage and tires is helping to spread the environmental pollution over large residential areas. He said these environmental pollutants threaten public health.

Al-Yami said that the burning of garbage increases the spread of asthma and shortness of breath, and may cause all types of malignant tumors.

The piled garbage also has may serious health impacts including providing a breeding ground for pests such as flies, mosquitoes and rats. Also the chances of diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, amoebic dysentery, hepatitis, tetanus, tuberculosis, and visual disturbances are greatly increased.