“As a sewer worker, I want respect and safer working conditions.”
Shafique Massih is a sewer worker in Lahore, Pakistan, and the Chair of the Punjab Sanitation Workers Union.
“I clear sewer system blockages. Every time I enter a sewer I don’t know if I will get out alive,” says Shafique. “The most frightening thing is the gases that can be released. They can be so toxic that a person can die within seconds. No one goes into a sewer willingly. But when your kids are starving, these things do not matter. Children, wife, family, all these things take priority.”
“More safety measures should be taken. In other countries, sewer workers are provided with proper health checkups every month. Lighter scuba suits should be provided. We also need protective shoes, gloves and masks.”
“In general, society looks down on us sewer workers, calling us degrading, humiliating names. No work is bad, it’s human mentality that needs to be changed.”
Shafique, in his capacity as Chair of the Punjab Sanitation Workers Union, receives training and support from the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Promoting Rights and Social Inclusion through Organization and Formalization (PRS) project, funded by the Government of Japan.
PRS supports domestic workers, cleaning and sanitation workers, agricultural workers, and construction workers, promoting ‘decent work’ with better health and safety.