JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED
Published — Monday 26 November 2012
Last update 26 November 2012 2:10 am
The strike by cleaning workers of a leading company ended in the holy city of Makkah on Saturday afternoon. The cleaning of the holy city began in earnest yesterday morning after garbage had gradually piled up on the streets during the week.
Thousands of tons of accumulated garbage that pose a threat to public health are being removed by workers. The recent showers in Makkah only served to worsen the already unsanitary state of the streets of a city frequented by thousands of foreigners throughout the year.
The cleaning company has a work force of over 6,000 workers of South Asian origin. These workers worked on marginal wages of little more than SR 250 per month. That, coupled with delays in payment, a lack of medical care and refusal of the cleaning company to renew their iqamas (residency permits) led to the workers going on strike following the end of the Haj season. It is further alleged that the accommodation provided for the workers in the Kakiah area of Makkah lack the most basic amenities. The company is also allegedly uses outdated trucks and equipment which often need maintenance, causing delays to the undertaking of their daily tasks.
The Makkah Municipality has taken steps to renew the iqamas of 2,000 cleaning laborers.
The iqamas were not renewed by the cleaning company after the recent increase in the iqama fees, a local Arabic daily reported yesterday.
The renewal of the iqama has become a huge burden on the cleaning contractor after the Ministry of Labor ordered an additional fee of SR 2,400 per laborer if they exceed the number of Saudi workers. The contractor is not likely to get Saudi workers to fulfill the provision to avoid the new levy because Saudi youth are unlikely to work as cleaning laborers.
On the other hand, an expatriate remaining in the Kingdom after the expiry of their iqama is a violation and violators are arrested and deported if not punished for violating labor laws.
Makkah streets had started to stink as cleaning operations in many streets stopped for five days when laborers stopped working demanding that their status be legalized before they go for work.
A local resident, Turki Al-Sayyal, said garbage was meters high and some neighborhoods were filled with a foul odor and he feared a spread of infection following a fall in levels of hygiene.
“We have been seeing the garbage mounting in our streets. When we inquired at the branch municipality, we were told that it was because of a standoff between the cleaning company and its workers,” Abu Turki, an aged resident of an affected neighborhood said, demanding the municipality punish those who caused the situation to worsen.
The cleaning of the holy city began in full swing yesterday morning after garbage had gradually piled up on the streets during the week.
However, Director General of Cleaning Operations at the municipality Muhammad Al-Mowarraqi said laborers would not return to work unless their contractor took steps to regularize their residency status.
“We held several meetings with the contractor to find a quick solution for this issue,” Al-Mowarraqi said, adding that the municipality will take necessary steps if the contractor did not renew the iqamas.
He also hinted that the municipality would take steps in line with the relevant regulations to make the contractor fulfill his contractual obligations for keeping the area clean.
Sami Sabba, a member of the Makkah Municipal Council who is also a member of the council’s cleaning committee, said the committee had a meeting two days before the laborers started their strike to discuss the poor cleaning at the holy sites during the Haj period.
“We were surprised to hear about the workers’ stopping their work two days after our meeting. We hoped that the issue will not prolong but when the garbage began to pile up we called an emergency meeting on Monday in which Deputy Mayor Abdul Salam Mushat, Al-Mowarraqi and a representative of the cleaning contractor participated to find a solution to the issue,” Sabba said.
He also urged city residents not to pour out their waste but to secure the garbage in tightly closed bags before dumping in order to avoid the waste causing air and water pollution.