Workers are fragmented and often might be displaced:
Workers are too fragmented (2 per site / operation) to be able to unionise together, further some public toilet cleaners are displaced often and unable to establish a stronghold.
Even where workers exist in large numbers they still don’t have any collective bargaining power:
Drain cleaning, sewer cleaning involves multiple workers but the risk to unionise is too high-workers feel they are disposable and if they start protesting, they are bound to lose their jobs.
Workers also lack external support to help initiate collectivisation:
- Workers are “invisible”- it is difficult to track workers without any proof of work and official records of these workers.
- The bandwidth of Dalit national politics is focused on a different narrative: 30% of SC community are casual labourers, 30-40% in agriculture and caste-based unions1 tend to focus on issues of these workers; further this sub-caste of SWs is only 12-13%1 of all SCs pushing their issues further to the fringe.
We need to integrate sanitation workers in existing unions or help collectivize various workers under different types of work.
This insight applies to 6 types of unsafe sanitation work:
What this entails: Unblocking and cleaning sewer and wastewater drains
Frequency: Complaint-based, seasonal (rainy season) and occasionally for preventive maintenance
Location: Urban areas
What this entails: Cleaning faecal matter from railway tracks and platforms,railway toilets and platform toilets
Frequency: several times a day
Location: Rail network and railway stations
What this entails: Maintaining and operating sewage and faecal sludge treatment plants on a daily basis
Location: Urban, across the ~527 STPs/FSTPs in India
What this entails: Maintaining public/community toilets (often insanitary) on a daily basis
Location: Rural and urban CTCs, mostly in slums; public convenience shelters
What this entails: Operating and maintaining school toilets on a daily basis
Location: Schools – rural and urban
What this entails: Cleaning open drains and road sweeping, often encountering fecal matter due to open defecation and insanitary latrines connected to drains
Location: Urban – drains alongside roads