NCHR kicks off protest campaign for Christian sanitary workers

    Christian activists are supporting a government human rights body’s campaign to protest against discriminatory advertisements for the recruitment of sanitary workers.

    The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) on Jan 25 launched a campaign that features sharing awareness messages through print, electronic and digital media, a series of online posts on the discriminatory advertisements that appear for the hiring of sanitation workers, posts on government’s quota system and highlighting deaths of sanitary workers on the job.

    NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha also plans to file a suit against the government to remove the discriminatory language in the advertisements for the employment of sanitary workers.

    “Such advertisements are in violation of Article 27 of the Constitution of Pakistan as well as the violation of international treaties ratified by the government, especially Article 1 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 1-7 of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination,” she said.

    Javeri was addressing a consultation session titled “stop systemic discrimination against minorities” in Islamabad. The speakers of the NCHR strategic planning urged for accountability at the district and tehsil level to make human rights a priority for all levels of governance.

    NCHR also screened a video documentary of two Christian sanitary workers who died in a sewer in Sargodha last year.

    Job advertisements published by both provincial governments and security establishments inviting applications from non-Muslims for sanitation posts often discriminate against the community.

    On Jan 12, the Islamabad High Court issued notices to various ministries on a writ petition seeking a ban on job advertisements that specifically reserve the post of “sweepers” for members of the minority communities, particularly Christians.

    In 2009, the national government reserved a 5 percent job quota for minorities on all federal and provincial government posts. However, human rights organisations claimed that most people from religious minorities were doing menial jobs.

    “However, the Annual Statistical Bulletin of Federal Government Employees 2017–18, states that only 2.8 percent were hired, and most of them were concentrated in low paid work,” said Javeri.

    “As of 2021, there are a total of 29,692 vacant minority posts of different grades for recruitment across Pakistan.  Most distressingly, evidence shows that government organisations have tried to meet the requirement by advertising sanitation jobs and other low paying work as being exclusively for Christians or other ‘Non-Muslims.’ Even though Christians are 1.6 percent of the population of Pakistan, they represent over 80 percent of the sanitation workforce.”

    Sohail Yousaf, coordinator of Edge Foundation, also condemned the Lahore Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) for floating a proposal requiring applicants to dive in sewers for filling 520 vacancies.

    “NCHR should report this inhuman practice. We condemn the trend of monthly job advertisements that invited applications from non-Muslims for sanitation posts,” he told Kross Konnection.

    Sweepers Are Superheroes, Pakistan’s first advocacy campaign to outline social attitudes and working conditions of sanitary workers, lauded NCHR.

    “It is humbling to see that the commission has finally decided to take it up!  It’s time for Pakistan to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent,” said former lawmaker Mary James Gill, who launched the campaign in 2019.

    “Public sector organisations have published more than 290 discriminatory ads from Feb. 2010 to Aug. 2021. We galvanise and support voices that seek to eliminate discrimination based on work and descent,” she said in a Facebook post.


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