."Scrap" Workers in Yemen.. Low Income and Great Risks


Ashraf Al-Rifi

Ali Al-Hobeishi drives around in his car through the streets of the capital Sana'a searching for scraps of copper, iron and plastic after taking up scrap trade and selling it.

Ali, a 20-year-old youth, uses his microphone in the neighborhood to announce for buying scraps from residents in return of glass cups or new plastic dishes.

Ali says that he practices the profession to cover his expenses and help provide for the needs of his family that consists of eleven members.

He sells what he collects to scrap dealers in a Shaoub area in Sana'a to earn between 1,000 rials ($ 20) and 2,000 rials ($ 40) a day, a small income, but he thinks it is better to sit without work or daily income under a business interruption.

Many people have been recruited to work in this field, especially children and women, whose numbers have increased because of the economic conditions of families that have pushed their children to work to help meet the demands of life..

Ahmed, a 10-year-old child, is working in scavenging garbage in neighborhoods and garbage dumps to find plastic water cans to collect and sell them.

He moves with his large bag from the early morning until the early evening hours without fatigue or boredom bearing the difficult task and its health risks in the absence of safety tools, procedures and prevention.

Ahmed, who left school two years ago, says he gets 700 to 1,500 rials a day to help his family, which has lost its breadwinner in the war.

In the scorching heat of midday, Sa'eed, who was supporting a large family of eight, was looking in the garbage barrels for plastic bottles of water to collect and sell them to reassure the vacant eyes waiting behind the four walls.

He talked to us, shyly, as if he had committed something contrary to his nature, directing his mocking question: "What do you want us to do? There are no jobs, no salaries, no one to care about our situation!" ".

Sa'eed was working as a reporter in a government establishment. When salaries stopped and starvation spread, he resorted to free work; sitting on the sidewalks with hundreds of workers waiting for someone to come and get them to do construction work. On the days when he does not find work, he goes to garbage barrels to search for plastic containers to sell them.

He lives in a modest house in a poor neighborhood, unable to pay house rents and struggling to earn enough to feed his little children!    

Lost Rights:

Those who work in such kind of work do not have components that organize their profession, adopt their rights, and seek to develop their profession. They also work without work contracts and health or life insurance, especially as their work is linked to the environment of unhealthy garbage dumps.

The war has widened the scope of poverty and increased workers in this field despite the small return of this work in exchange for the great effort in the collection of scrap.

Ali says he works from morning until the end of the day and complains that the abundance of scrap is falling because of poverty and low incomes due to war conditions.

This is what Mohammed Al-Sayed, one of the owners of the scrap reception shops, also complains about. He receives scrap from the workers in the garbage dumps and sells them to large traders.

Mohammed says that the proportion of scrap they receive has declined because of the low use of people who live in difficult economic conditions, especially with the suspension of payment of salaries to employees, which also reflected negatively on the proportion of scrap that has declined significantly.

Mohammed receives about 200 kilos of plastic a day from the workers and finds that this is a modest income compared to his income before the war, which was much more than that.

According to specialists, total solid waste revenues exported annually are estimated at $ 64,398,000 before the war, and that figure has declined with the war and export stopped for long periods.

According to two workers working in this field, the prices they sell to intermediary traders are small, and vary slightly, explaining that the prices traded for waste in kilo are as follows: Red copper value is 1800 rials per kilo, while brass is 1000 rials, light aluminum is 450 rials while heavy aluminum is 500 rials.

The damaged batteries, with their lead, are sold at 350 rials per kilo, while and rubber and plastic of all types are sold for 45 rials.

Prices of paper, cardboard and clothing are estimated at 25 rials, while glass is sold at 10 rials per kilo.

These prices are not fixed and may increase or decrease at simple levels from time to time depending on market conditions and the state of war in the country.

This trade was not isolated from the war; remnants of weapons like remnants of missiles and pieces of tanks, shells and other weapons were collected and sold to workshops to be used in the manufacture of the Yemeni dagger.

Professional Organization:

This sector needs a special trade union component to organize the affairs of the profession, protect its rights and defend its members. An attempt in the southern city of Taiz existed before the war; however, it does not have any concrete activity now because of the war that inflicted the city four years ago.

The attempt was made in 2010 when the first association of collecting plastic and scrap was created with the participation of 450 women and men, as well as plastic factory managers and officials from the province, as was declared then.

The association was especially concerned with plastic collectors. Its founders considered that it would constitute a turning point in the sale of waste to factories, so that the decision to sell will be uniform for the kilo of plastics, iron and other scrap.

The association aimed to provide health and social insurance and protection against the risks of these groups and exposure of the families of workers in this field to the loss of sources of income necessary for the family in the case the breadwinner had any disease or stopped work.


Childhood Pains:

What is painful here is that a large number of children who have dropped out of school have joined this sector that is full of health and physical hazards, to add to the pain of children in Yemen under the weak protection measures for the children, who bear the hardships and tasks of adults.   

The issues of workers in the field of collection and sale of "scrap" need great attention by all concerned authorities to protect the rights of workers and the organization of this large sector characterized by chaos and random.