Waste Pickers Unite For Rights, Gain Support From Diverse Sectors

Cebu City.  A significant step towards on-going national initiatives of the informal waste sector to gain recognition and legitimization as decent workers, as well as their development and integration into the solid waste management system, has gained momentum as over 50 individuals from several local community groups and NGOs from Cebu City, Mandaue City and Bacolod City took part in an awareness-raising training and consultation aimed at raising occupational consciousness regarding waste pickers’ rights.

The EcoWaste Coalition, in partnership with local groups Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC), and the University of Cebu – Banilad, has organized a two-day regional training workshop for waste pickers at the University of Cebu, Banilad Campus in Cebu City.

The two-day activity, which culminates today, also gained the support of Cebu City Councilor Nida Cabrera, Chairperson of the City Council Committee on Environment, as well as Engr. Ricardo Mendoza, Director of the Mandaue City Solid Waste Management Board.

According to the Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), waste pickers are either “individuals working and rummaging through garbage on dumps, informal private collectors selling recyclables, or organized sorters tied with unions, cooperatives and associations.”

“The workshop aims to develop a common understanding about the present solid waste management (SWM) systems, discuss the current and emerging threats of such systems that tend to exclude waste pickers, and identify solutions and legal provisions that will allow the mandatory inclusion of waste pickers into the existing SWM models,” said PEJC Coordinator Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos.

In 2010, the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) adopted a National Framework Plan for the Informal Sector in Solid Waste Management via NSWMC Resolution No. 47 in the hope of integrating waste pickers into the SWM system by “providing them with a favorable policy environment, skills development and access to a secured livelihood, employment and social services.”

Atty. Ramos explained that the NSWMC Framework Plan has been carried out successfully in a few areas, but still needs strict implementation in many parts of the country, “especially in places where localities are outsourcing waste collection and segregation to private entities, thereby threatening the jobs of waste pickers whose bread and butter includes collection, segregation and retail of recyclable discards.”

In the midst of several plans to adopt “green technologies” such as waste-to-energy plants, the government undermines the real eco-friendly technology – comprehensive recycling with social justice and labor rights recognition.

“In light of continually rising unemployment, the government should promote programs and legislations that will uplift working conditions of waste pickers and sustain their livelihood in the recycling industry as opposed to advocating supposed “green technology” projects and policies that expel large number of workers,” Atty. Ramos added.

Indeed, for decades now, Filipino waste pickers still fight for a dignified livelihood as they struggle for their occupational rights to be recognized and their working conditions to improve; and despite their positive economic, social and environmental impact to the communities they live in, the government, in general, still lacks supportive and inclusive policies and laws that will safeguard waste pickers’ rights and ensure occupational stability and social protection.

In order to advance their rights, the marginalized waste pickers need to have one solid voice that will represent them in local and national policy, regulatory and collective bargaining bodies.

For his part, Rey Palacio, Informal Waste Sector (IWS) Project Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition, says that one of the workshop’s objectives is to “strengthen local waste pickers’ organizations to assist their individual concerns and facilitate the improvement of their working conditions, which results to guaranteed earnings and sustained decent employment.”

“The workshop allowed participants to share their stories of growth and development, as well as challenges being encountered as they make a living from waste. Some of these challenges include secure access to waste; exposure to health risks and hazards due to presence of toxic, hazardous and infectious wastes in the disposal facilities; and insufficient government support. To take on these challenges, the participants need to have stronger organizations that will pro-actively fight for their social inclusion and improved economic conditions," Palacio added.