In June a supervisor who works with one of the Private Sector Participation (PSPs) Waste Operators expressed the plight of Lagos State Sweepers in a video that went viral. He bitterly complained about non-payment of their salaries for over 3 months. The PSPs are Solid Waste Managers, who are contracted by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) in a form of Public-Private Partnership (PPP). They then employ supervisors and sweepers who actually do the work of keeping Lagos State clean on a casual basis. These workers are subjected to poor living and unsafe working conditions.
Waste Management is a public service the responsibility of which lies with the government. The argument that involving private sector in public services such as solid waste management will improve the efficiency of the service and cut costs has been shown to be fraudulent and totally incorrect. The situation of Lagos State Waste Management and conditions of Lagos State sweepers clearly expose the failure of private sector participation in waste management and the logic of Public-Private Partnership in its totality.
The Lagos State megacity dream is nothing but a mirage, not because the state lacks resources -(Lagos State has the 4th largest GDP in Africa)- it is rather because of the failure of successive state governments in Lagos, and profit-driven state policies. Mountains of solid wastes litter residential and commercial areas including markets in Lagos State, especially in areas like Agege, Alimosho and Yaba. Inefficient solid waste management partly contributes to flood crises in the state.
Aside from the eyesore situation of inefficient waste management, the Lagos State government and PSP contractors treat the sweepers no better than the waste being managed. In the aforementioned video the supervisor complained about non-payment of 3 months salaries and the aged women that sweep the streets were forced to go begging commuters for survival. The sad reality is that the workers were neglected in a period of health crisis when they needed more support. Equally there’s no provision of PPEs for these workers and they are exposed to the threat of contracting the SARS-COV-2.
The Lagos State Government and LAWMA neglected the sweepers while the contractors who merely play a parasitic role in the waste management scheme abandoned the workers. Each one of these actors blamed each other without seriously addressing the plight of the Lagos State sweepers. On June 13 the workers had a demonstration at the state which forced the State government to pay their May salary leaving April, June salaries.
In a statement by the acting managing director of LAWMA, he mentioned that government approved #25,000 for each sweeper meanwhile the contractors do shortchange them by paying as low as #5,000. He added that some contractors padded their bills with ghost sweepers and supervisors. That further shows the antilogic logic of privatisation and PPP. We share the demands advanced by the workers in a Punch interview on June 19 and call for Lagos State Government to:
1) Terminate the engagement with contractors and employ the supervisors and sweepers as full-time employees of the state.
2) Provide full access to affordable health care for the sweepers and provided them with PPEs.
3) Pay the workers a living wage; no worker must earn below the minimum wage which is #35,000 in Lagos State.
4) All workers have the right to Unionism, the Lagos State sweepers and supervisors must not be prevented from joining a union.
by Lai BROWN