Cape Town - Janitors employed by the City of Cape Town say they have not been given protective masks and clothing when they clean communal toilets in Khayelitsha.
One janitor from S Section, who asked to not be named for fear of losing her job, said she emptied containers of faeces without a mask or gloves. “The city has not given them to us.”
February had been the last time masks were handed out. “I have chest infections, but I must still go in there.”
Gavin Silber, deputy general secretary of the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), said it had received similar complaints from council janitors working in Lindelani Park and RR, DT and BM sections in Khayelitsha.
Mayor Patricia de Lille led an operations team into Barcelona last Wednesday with a mask to guard against the stench and contamination. A large contingent of law enforcement officials and media were also given protective gear.
“It is a disgrace that while some municipal workers tasked with cleaning toilets daily are deprived of face masks because of stock shortages, placing their health and wellbeing at risk and violating labour legislation, De Lille and her delegation saw fit to use the limited supply as props in a publicity stunt,” said Social Justice Coalition general secretary Phumeza Mlungwana.
The city has 845 municipal janitors who clean the communal flush toilets.
Mayoral committee member for utility services Ernest Sonnenberg said the city’s expanded public works programme issued every janitor, as well as its permanent staff, with protective clothing when they were appointed. They were also offered inoculations.
Exposure to human waste put workers at risk of polio, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A and B.
The department had a “comprehensive” system to ensure its staff had adequate equipment.
“We constantly assess the effectiveness of such systems. As such, we are currently looking into these reports and will rectify any situations of missing equipment if found to be accurate.” As with other equipment, masks and protective clothing might need replacing or fixing at times.
Janitors were not expected to work if required protective items were not issued to them, but it was also “a challenge” to get them to adhere to the use of their protective clothing.
A number of city departments needed protective clothing, and stock was not always available, although the utility services department’s informal settlements unit ensured where possible that it was.
Mlungwana said: “The SJC raised concerns with the utilities department and mayor’s office in December 2012 about mask shortages. This is yet another example of why the City of Cape Town must publish a policy and plan for the janitorial service – something they have been promising for more than a year… ”