Recognition and respect for workers in urban cleaning services, popularly known as sweepers, form the central axis of Bill 7.687/2017, by Deputy Érika Kokay (PT), for which I am the rapporteur and which I hope to see approved in the next days.
In general terms, the idea is to punish, including fines, any act of discrimination against public cleaning professionals, whether by individuals or legal entities, private or public.
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A law of this nature, to protect the dignity of workers who are fundamental to collective health and environmental health, would be unnecessary if these same workers did not suffer recurrent episodes of prejudice and hostility. This occurred even during the covid-19 pandemic, when they were essential in combating the virus, maintaining sanitary conditions in cities.
An extreme example was the attempted exclusion suffered by the category, in priority access to immunization, in the Bolsonaro (PL) necrogovernment. Even though they are exposed to contamination on a daily basis, these workers only gained the effective right to priority vaccination in June 2021, after a lot of struggle.
This happened after a national survey by the Brazilian Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering (ABES) showed that the number of urban cleaning workers infected with the coronavirus was almost five and a half times higher than the number infected in the general Brazilian population; the number of deaths reached six times that of the rest of the population.
Discrimination also occurs in daily routine, in public transport, in the difficulty of accessing a bathroom, getting a glass of water or entering and circulating in condominiums.
A significant part of society is unaware of urban cleaning as an essential service directly linked to public and environmental health, in addition to being part of services related to basic sanitation. According to the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz), garbage-related diseases form an extensive list, which includes cysticercosis, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever, filariasis, giardiasis, leishmaniasis, leptospirosis, among many others.
In 2022, Brazil produced 81.8 million tons of waste in urban areas, which represents 224 thousand tons daily. Each person generated, on average, 381 kg per year, which means more than 1 kg of garbage per day.
More than 256,000 urban cleaning and solid waste management professionals from all over Brazil clean cities from these mountains of garbage, but they suffer prejudice and erasure on a daily basis. Last year alone, they achieved the proper professional regulation and the minimum wage, of just R$ 1,850 per month, for a workday of 6 hours a day and 36 hours a week.
These male and female workers, which so many pejorative adjectives have already carried, need to be recognized as fundamental for collective health, for our society and the environment. We hope that this law will help in this process and be the first step towards a broader project, recognizing street sweepers, as well as recyclable waste pickers, as environmental agents, with an important role in basic sanitation and sanitary infrastructure in our cities.
*Federal deputy and deputy leader of the PT in the Federal Chamber.
** This is an opinion article. The author’s view does not necessarily express the editorial line of the newspaper Brasil de Fato.
Source: BdF Rio de Janeiro
Editing: Mariana Pitasse