Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers in Karnataka have threatened to boycott work from Friday and have written to Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa about raising their wages and giving them adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
The workers have been protesting since June 30 and are now planning to boycott work from Friday, until their demands are considered. The week-long campaign saw memorandums being submitted to the respective district collectors and tahsildars as well as numerous MLAs and Ministers of the state.
A statement released by the Karnataka Rajya Samyuktha Asha Karyakarteyara Sangha on Thursday said that the workers are left with no choice but to join the state-wide movement demanding better wages and protective gear.
The Sangha, in a letter to Yediyurappa on June 30, requested that the remuneration for ASHA workers in Karnataka be raised to a fixed amount of Rs 12,000 per month. In the letter, ASHA workers highlighted how each ASHA worker is given fixed wages of Rs 4,000 and are paid an additional Rs 2,000 for eight different routine works and Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 for activity-oriented works. The overall monthly wages, including the incentive-based add-ons, come up to between Rs 8,000 and Rs 9,000.
But the workers say that there are challenges to ensure they receive their incentive-based payment. â€śSevere problems arise when it comes to feeding the entries of the activities executed by ASHA workers. In many instances, the web portal through which the entries need to be updated may not work all the time thanks to power fluctuations and many technical/non-technical reasons. As a result of which, many of their works remain un-updated,which refrains them from receiving any incentives for the activities they have done,â€ť reads the letter.
ASHA workers are trained to be the interface between the community and the public healthcare system in India.
A representative of ASHA workers also met Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President DK Shivakumar and sought his support for the boycott. DK Shivakumar said that the Congress too will write to Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa asking for higher wages and protective equipment for the health workers.
This is not a new issue and memorandums seeking a revision of wages were first sent in March. Since the coronavirus outbreak began in India, ASHA workers have been tasked with going door-to-door, spreading awareness about the coronavirus and crucially, collecting information about those who are likely to be infected with the virus. This involves speaking to people and recording the temperatures of those who recently returned from abroad and those living in containment zones. During this period, ASHA workers constantly came in contact with people who were quarantined at home. Several ASHA workers were attacked when they turned up to conduct surveys in places with reported coronavirus cases.
Nagalakshmi D, the State Secretary of the union of ASHA workers in Karnataka said that most workers were doing their job without adequate protective equipment. â€śInitially, there was no equipment provided until mid-April even though ASHA workers were going door-to-door for over a month by then. The state government should ensure that the equipment is provided regularly to the workers,â€ť Nagalakshmi told TNM.
In the letter, workers have asked for face shields, N-95 masks, hand sanitizers, and gloves for all ASHA workers. Nagalakshmi pointed out that as many as 42,000 ASHA workers will be boycotting work from Friday. â€śAround 70 workers have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began. Our safety should be a priority for the government and we should be paid higher fixed wages,â€ť Nagalakshmi said.