With five deaths, Pune civic body Class-IV staff remains most exposed to Covid-19
Lack of protective gear like PPE and low-quality masks, gloves make them more susceptible to the virus
Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has reported five deaths of its permanent staff, all of whom are women and Class-IV employees who provide essential services like cleaning hospitals and picking up garbage from city streets. The deaths have raised questions regarding the safety of Class-IV employees, amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of the deceased, four are sanitation workers — two from Bhavani peth ward and one each from Dhankavdi and Ghole road ward; and one is a hospital sanitation staff from Kamla Nehru hospital.
Civic officials claimed that they have given gloves, sanitisers and soaps to all its Class-IV employees, but cited their inability to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) kits to these employees.
As of May 21, out of the 48 PMC staff, including permanent and contractual, which has been infected by Covid-19, 23 have recovered and been discharged. Of the permanent staff, five have succumbed to the virus, while 14 are undergoing treatment and 18 have been discharged. As for the contractual labours, five are admitted and six have been discharged.
While doctors have been provided with PPE kits, Class-IV employees, who are at an equal risk, are only given masks, gloves and soaps, said a civic official. Dnyaneshwar Molak, head, PMC solid waste management department said, “We have reported five deaths among PMC staff and all of their families have been given Rs 1 crore. For those working on field, we have given gloves, masks and soap. We have also installed hand sanitisers at the 172 offices where all these sanitation workers report every day. As for providing PPE kits, there are different types of kits for different purposes. It would not be feasible to provide PPE kits to our sanitation staff as they would not be able to work in these kits for more than three-four hours. They can easily wash their hands with soaps which we have provided and they also use masks and gloves.”
As per the civic body’s policy, Rs 1 crore is given to the next of kin of the PMC employee who dies due to Covid-19 under the Suraksha Kavach policy, 100% reimbursement of medical bills. A special leave of 14-day home quarantine is given to Covid positive employees. For contractual employees, Covid treatment will be free and paid leave will be sanctioned.
Molak said that while masks disposed at Covid care centres are treated and disposed off as medical waste, those used and discarded by the public on streets or homes get mixed with regular waste which is then handled by the PMC staff. He added, “For contactless disposal of garbage, we have deployed around 12 mechanical sweepers at prime roads to ensure that the staff does not come in touch with the waste.”
Treat contractual staff at par with PMC staff: Labour union
Uday Bhat, president, PMC labour union said, “Our prime demand is that all contractual workers should be treated at par with PMC permanent staff. They should also be provided with Rs 1 crore insurance coverage. We have also asked for better quality masks and gloves because currently the masks that are provided tear off fast and for those working at cremation centres, they often melt when ashes are collected by workers as ash containers are hot.”
“Also most of our staff live in containment zones and high density areas for which we have demanded testing for all. We have about 9,000 sanitation staff, including contractual labours and they are most vulnerable. Also we have demanded relief for our staff by asking PMC to recruit employees from other departments under the Disaster Management Act 2005 as our staff is under great mental stress. We also demand continuous supply of masks and gloves so that the workers are not exposed to the infection,” added Bhat.