New bill helps chimney sweeps' businesses

A recently proposed bill affecting chimney sweeps, one of Slovakia's oldest professions, aims to cut the number of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths as well as secure a future for those who still follow the trade.
A group of opposition and coalition Members of Parliament (MPs) delivered the bill to parliament in early October and plan to pass it before mid November.
Jozef Tužinský, president of the Slovak Chamber of Chimney Sweeps and head of his own chimney services company, said around 60 people died every year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning in Slovakia, while many residential chimneys were being neglected by sweeps in search of more lucrative commercial contracts.

A recently proposed bill affecting chimney sweeps, one of Slovakia's oldest professions, aims to cut the number of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths as well as secure a future for those who still follow the trade.

A group of opposition and coalition Members of Parliament (MPs) delivered the bill to parliament in early October and plan to pass it before mid November.

Jozef Tužinský, president of the Slovak Chamber of Chimney Sweeps and head of his own chimney services company, said around 60 people died every year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning in Slovakia, while many residential chimneys were being neglected by sweeps in search of more lucrative commercial contracts.

The bill proposes to cut deaths and improve services by returning to the chamber the right to assign all of the 200 Slovak chimney sweeps a particular district for which they are responsible. "This will give us greater control over sweeps and will prevent so many fatal accidents from happening," Tužinský explained.

Slovaks, like many other European nations, still believe that chimney sweeps can make people's wishes come true. But life in the 21st century has caused problems for the traditional bearers of luck.

Young people are no longer interested in doing what they believe is a "dirty job", said Tužinský, and numbers are falling even though the profession is no longer such a filthy business, as modern gas heating systems do not produce soot like wood and coal-driven heating did in the past.

The remaining chimney sweeps, Tužinský continued, if they are to feed their families, are forced to look for more lucrative job contracts and thus neglect checks on private houses.

While the cost of sweeping a chimney in a private home is only Sk100 ($2.10), a contract with a big company can bring a sweep Sk10,000 ($210) and more.

Milan Cagala, an opposition Movement for Democratic Slovakia MP and one of the proposers of the bill, said this situation left many chimneys dangerously neglected.

"Sweeps aren't obliged to take care of their districts, so they're naturally travelling to where they can make better money," he said.

According to Slovak Labour Ministry figures, chimney sweeps who clean only private chimneys make about Sk4,600 ($97) a month, while according to the Statistics Office, the average Slovak wage in industry was Sk11,300 ($240) a month in the first quarter of 2001.

If the bill is passed, sweeps will still be allowed to look for more lucrative contracts, but will also be obliged to look after the chimneys in their districts.

Cagala said the bill could even help attract young blood to the trade.

"By giving them a certain set of chimneys for which they're responsible, they'll have a safe fixed wage, and can still work on more lucrative orders," he said.

According to Tužinský, work awaits those attracted to the trade, which has a tradition dating back to the 17th century. Because Slovak chimney sweeps are slowly dying out, the average sweep is 45 years old. Slovakia has 8,000 chimneys for every chimney sweep, while in neighbouring Austria the ratio is one sweep to 1,500 chimneys.

"We need about 200 more chimney sweeps," Tužinský said.

He added that with an increased workforce at hand, his own wish would eventually come true: "As few accidents as possible, and ever cleaner chimneys."

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