Putting workers’ lives at risk

As cholera continues to ravage the country, it is business as usual in some councils, notably Zomba City Council, where some workers are not provided with protective gear, putting them at risk of contracting diseases, including cholera. To 20 or so people that landed the temporary job in October 2022, it must have been a dream come true. The 20 individuals were…

Unemployment can force people to do things that would, normally, be disdained, including working without protective wear in relatively hazardous environments.

This was certainly the case when ZCC announced that it needed not less than 20 temporary workers to offer services at its sewer treatment plant.

To 20 or so people that landed the temporary job in October 2022, it must have been a dream come true.

The 20 individuals were recruited for three months, effective December 1 2022.

“We were told to start working and that our personal protective equipment would be ready before long. A month and some two weeks later, the equipment is not yet in,” said one of the workers.

They work in the early hours of the day.

Those who can afford use their own gumboots while those who cannot afford work without any personal protective equipment.

According to one of the workers, this is putting their lives at risk.

The source cited cholera as one of the diseases they are afraid of.

By January 18, at least 881 people had succumbed to the disease in Malawi since the first case under the current wave of cholera was detected in Machinga District on March 2 2022.

The cholera outbreak, which has affected 29 districts of the country, has become one of the things that force the temporary workers to beat their chests every now and then.

“We do not want to become victims,” said another worker, who claims to be the breadwinner of the family back home.

When we visited the site, at least three times this week, we learned that some of the temporary workers have started suffering from scabies.

“We touch dirty things. We do not even know where some of the things we are touching with our bare hands are coming from.

“Why should we put our lives at risk in the course of earning a living? This is unfair,” the worker said.

When contacted for a comment, ZCC Chief Engineer Mayamiko Kabango insisted that the council is through with procurement processes.

Kabango said the request to recruit the workers was submitted to ZCC acting Chief Executive Officer Fred Nankuyu on November 21 2022 after a full council meeting unanimously agreed on the move.

However, Kabango was quick to indicate that the procurement process, which, he said, has no shortcuts, started in December 2022.

“The procurement process is over. We have bought gloves, work suits, gumboots, holes and shovels. We may have them ready at the site soon,” he said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Leadership for Environment and Development Head of Programmes, Patrick Likongwe, has said the workers suffering from waterborne and other diseases. are at a great risk of

He cites cholera and diarrhoea as some of the diseases the workers may suffer from.

“I am of the view that the workers should not continue working like this because health needs to come first. People are a resource that has to be treasured. How will we feel when those working at the sewer treatment plant fall sick for days and fail to report for work?” he argued.

He has since urged the council to provide protective wear to those working in high-risk areas like the treatment plant.

“As they recruit people to work at, say, the treatment plant, they can go the extra mile just to make sure that the workers are up to date on vaccines such as those for tetanus, polio, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B and cholera, now that we have a cholera vaccine. This is for the workers’ good and the good of the community they are serving,” Likongwe said.

Apart from ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 6 of the United Nations encourages member states to improve people’s sanitation and hygiene levels, apart from ending practices such as open defecation.

SDG 6 also aims to improve water quality and water-use efficiency and to encourage sustainable abstractions and supply of freshwater.

In Malawi, the Occupational Safety, Health and Welfare Act, Chapter 55:07, which came into force on December 8 1997— and was later revised and consolidated in the Forth Revised Edition of the Laws of Malawi (L.R.O. 1/2015) by the Solicitor General and Secretary for Justice in line with the Revision of the Laws Act— indicates that individuals and organisations have to prioritise the welfare of workers.

Section 6(58) of the Act stipulates that, in any workplace, workers that are employed in any process involving excessive exposure to heat, cold, noise, wet or to any injurious or offensive substance, or any welding process, have to be provided with suitable protective clothing and appliances, including, where necessary, suitable gloves, footwear, screens, goggles, ear muffs and head covering.

It further says these should be provided and maintained at no cost to the employee for the use of such workers as required by the law.

That way, people like the Zomba temporary workers may not be exposed to diseases such as scabies and cholera.

Zomba has, so far, registered 16 cholera-related deaths as at January 18 2023, with 31 new cases registered.

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