Street cleaners get breaks they deserve

Since 2013, the Minhang District has organized 288 rest stations for its 6,200 “road angels.” And the cleaners are obviously thankful for small mercies.

If you find Shanghai’s record hot summer debilitating, spare a thought for the city’s street cleaners, who are out sweeping pavements under often searing temperatures.

We see them every day in their long-sleeved uniforms and facial masks, but we seldom stop to think about the grueling demands of such low-paying jobs.

In the past, this somewhat marginal class of city workers sought temporary respite from heat and torrential rain at security gatehouses in places like the Xinzhuang Industry Park. There, cleaners could find water, lavatories and chairs to rest their weary legs in air-conditioned comfort.

But such services touched only a small proportion of street cleaners. More needed to be done.

Since 2013, the Minhang District has organized 288 rest stations for its 6,200 “road angels.” Companies like Sinopec, KFC, China Telecom and the Shanghai Rural Commercial Bank are among those that have volunteered to provide havens where street cleaners can get much-needed breaks.

The last stop on Bus Line 141 has gone so far as to offer a room in the station with water, a refrigerator, a microwave and tables.

“Whatever our staff gets, we also provide to street cleaners,” said Yan Guohua, manager of Bus Line 141.

“Street cleaners working in this area often stop by for a break.”

The cleaners are obviously thankful for small mercies.

“After sweeping on Shenchang Road for two hours, I needed a place to rest but I couldn’t find one,” said street cleaner Tao Yongqiang. “Then a worker on the bus line invited me in for water and chair to sit in.”

Minhang has broad roadways but little street-side shade. Cleaners often had to sit on pedestrian strips when they needed a break, and some found it hard to take off work long enough for a sip of water or a meal.

“The conditions were worse in the past,” said Tao. “It was often hard to find a toilet. But now, when I am thirsty and tired, and the weather is harsh, I have a place to take a welcome break. It’s really very nice.”

Ice cream, salt soda and green bean soup are provided for street cleaners in many district rest stations. Emergency medical equipment is also available to assist street cleaners who get injured or suffer heatstroke.

“Taking care of our street cleaners creates a better society for us all, which was the original intention of this campaign,” said a staffer at the Minhang Federation of Trade Union.

Adjustments also have been made to the working hours of street cleaners. They can now avoid working between 11am and 2pm, when daytime temperatures are at their highest.

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