Italy. On the situation of cleaning workers in Italy: report of a female worker in times of Covid-19.
Originally published by Pressenza. Translated by Enough 14.
The following text, originally published on 21.03.2020 by Benedetta La Penna, is a report by a female cleaner and activist from central Italy. She talks about the precarious working conditions of cleaners, which are aggravated during the Corona crisis and which should not remain invisible in the reporting of workers’ struggles.
In the current situation, aggressive cleaning agents are used, and new tasks such as disinfecting large areas after the end of a shift are also required. While cleaners are responsible for the health protection of other workers, they themselves are exposed to massive health risks due to irritating cleaning agents and the lack of protective measures.
“When there is a shortage of personnel, temporary workers are used, and in order to be able to continue to serve the market, they do not close the production facilities. At the same time, workers in various sectors are striking to protect their health. Of course, (temporary) workers who are currently being hired could also go on strike, but they won’t: for them it’s like having a gun pointed at their head. They are faced with the choice between work and unemployment, and the outcome of their choice is clear.
Grassroots pressure must be put on the government until protective measures and social securities are guaranteed for all workers and negotiations are held on the closure of production facilities. It must take place collectively, in all sectors that are not necessary – if they produce masks or means of basic needs, then of course they must continue, with sufficient protective measures. The least they could do would be to give us masks, that they would respect the famous DPI (dispositivi di protezione individiuale), the personal protection measures. We have all been fighting for two weeks now. The protest is directed against the inadequate safety precautions and the lack of health protection, and that is the essential thing: Health. We do not want to have to choose between health and work, between wages and blackmail!
What happened on Saturday is simply a scandal: a protocol (new safety regulations at work) was signed, which ultimately gives companies free rein to decide whether or not they comply with the DPI. But in many companies there is no or insufficient DPI. The same mask is often used for a week. And so the mask that is supposed to protect you during your work is not replaced because you are not provided with a replacement.
Did you ever try to be crammed into a small space with 200 people and at the same time keep the now so important safety distance, is this a joke? This is a mockery of the entire working class! Those who work now will be the patients of the future! For me this is a real struggle. They have only given us the surgical masks, without proper filters – and we are the ones who disinfect everything. If we don’t die of Covid, we’ll die of the fumes from these lovely detergents. The detergents are composed with 75 percent chlorine. They settle in the respiratory system. The list of ingredients speaks for itself: if you are exposed to these substances for a long time, inflammation of the mucous membranes, respiratory tract and irritation of the eyes can be the result! Or as a colleague of mine said today: If we don’t die of Covid-19, we’ll at least die disinfected.
Sacrosanct! Jesus Christ! And the cleaners are all hired by subcontractors who are at mostly cutting wages. That means that if on the one hand a worker is saved by stopping production, on the other hand there is one who is exploited even more.
We are paid 6.88 euros according to the standard rate. You only have to estimate how many companies need our services at the moment, and then you can see how our work sector has become a real profit machine.
Not only do they save on health and safety at work, but the wages alone put us into working conditions that are suspiciously close to slavery, and all this without the necessary protective clothing: full body suit, disposable gloves, mouthguards, full coverage… and the FFP3 mouthguard. If we don’t get protective clothing, they’ re going to save money at the cost of workers bodies.
What happens when the factories are closed? They will be cleaned, of course. But when they reopen three days later, the whole thing starts all over again. And so the vicious circle is created, because the factories stay open in the middle of the crisis in order not to make any losses.
Here capitalist conditions show themselves as if they were under a burning glass […]
The situation in the factories in times of the virus raises a number of questions, and Confindustria (employers’ association) answers them clearly by keeping production running. […] They ask us to clean the factory floors when they are closed, which gives us more work and means that they never have to close down completely. They are risking our health and that of our relatives, while we have not received a wage increase for years.
We often read that our work is criticized. But they don’t know what it means to spend hours bent over cleaning areas, starting six or seven in the morning and rushing from one place of work to another without being paid the travel expenses. Between jobs, we sometimes have a three-hour break, and many don’t have the opportunity to go home in between, from six in the morning until six in the evening we are away from home and all the time we breathe in the fumes of the detergents.
Our work is indeed system relevant, but the majority of those who want to report on it must do so anonymously. We cannot help it in our situation. A few days ago, workers who were cleaning in the hospital in Livorno were sacked simply because they publicly complained about the lack of DPI, gloves and masks, which are so fundamentally important for us. For us, the strike is a luxury and denouncing the shortcomings is a risk, and this with this miserable wage of 500 euros a month.
I would also like to remind you that the majority of cleaning staff are women. Feminized work in times of slavery with the abbreviation COVID 19. A double oppression in times of pandemic.
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