by Areej Abuqudairi | Aug 18, 2012

AMMAN — “Neither the pay nor the treatment we receive befits our job, which most people refuse to do,” said a street cleaner from Amman who gave his name as Abu Ahmad.

Abu Ahmad is one of several street cleaners and refuse collectors working for the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) who, in recent interviews with The Jordan Times, complained of low wages and poor treatment.

“I have been working for 16 years,” the sanitation worker said. “My salary is only JD350 per month, which includes the cost of living allowance. Is that fair when you are working hard in the dirt for more than eight hours a day?”

The municipality, however, says these workers’ wages are compatible with the amount of work they do and the cost of living in Jordan.

“Since we increased their salaries a few years ago, most of our workers are paid up to JD350. This includes an additional allowance of JD40 for living expenses and JD40 for cleanliness. This is not a small amount of money for an eight-hour shift,” Mohammad Amaireh, director of GAM’s waste operations department, told The Jordan Times.

But Abu Ahmad and his colleagues say that thanks to a shortage of equipment and vehicles at GAM, they are frequently forced to work extra hours after their official shifts have ended, with no extra pay.

“They tell us there are no vehicles and transferring waste takes too long. They say you should not leave before you clean your area. Whose area? We are human beings too,” said a refuse collector who refused to give his name.

“This is not considered overtime work at all. When we raise this issue, managers say you can leave if you do not like it.”

Amaireh denied claims that workers have to stay after their shifts.

“These are rumours. Our workers leave as soon as they finish their shifts and they do not stay for one extra second. It has nothing to do with a shortage of equipment,” he said.

Last month, Amaireh told The Jordan Times that the department had not been able to buy new trucks, dumpsters or other equipment in five years and had inherited only 100 vehicles from the previous administration out of what used to be a 270-vehicle fleet.

Refuse collectors and street cleaners also complained that they did not receive allowances to compensate them for the risk of catching diseases due to their work.

“We are expected to load garbage into trucks or pick it up from the streets. Some residents do not wrap the garbage bags properly and they throw them near the containers, not inside. This is not hygienic, but we do not receive an additional allowance for that,” said Abu Ahmad.

According to Amaireh, hazard pay is only granted to workers based in landfills and dumpsters.

“It is not our fault that residents do not dispose of garbage the way they should,” Amaireh said in response to the workers’ complaints that some residents’ behaviours put them at risk.

In addition, Abu Ahmad said his Egyptian colleague Ali (not his real name) was paid a lower salary and was not entitled to health insurance, although he did the same job and worked the same hours as the other street cleaners.

“This guy has been working for 10 years and he is only paid JD200. He does not receive health insurance or any additional allowances for cost of living or for having a family,” Abu Ahmad said while pointing at Ali, who declined to speak for himself out of fear of losing his job.

“What if he gets ill during work or because of work? Is that fair?” asked Abu Ahmad.

Amaireh confirmed that foreign nationals were not entitled to health insurance and are paid less than Jordanian workers, but denied that the discrepancy in pay was significant.

“No, they are not entitled to health insurance, but it is not true that there is a big difference in their salaries. They get paid a little less, but they are paid well.”

According to Amaireh, migrant workers, who are mainly Egyptian nationals, compromise 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the 5,050 workers at GAM.

“We have been recruiting more locals recently to encourage Jordanians to do the work,” he added.

Finally, prejudice among residents is another challenge that sanitation workers in the capital say they face each day.

“When they see us, they hold their noses. It is the smell of their dirt, not our smell,” said a street cleaner, who declined to be named.

“In the past, we called ourselves cleaners,” his colleague noted. “Now, they refer to us as garbage men. But they try and give us nice names in the newspapers.”