The Karnataka government's frontline healthcare workers, ASHA, or Accredited Social Health Activists, held a statewide protest today saying they would only return to work when their demands - Rs 12,000 fixed salary, PPE kits and assurance that the state government would take care of their family's health needs - are met. While the strike jeopardises state's efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease officers said the demands would be "looked into".
During the pandemic, ASHA workers are being sent to containment zones to trace contacts of those who test positive, which workers said, they have been doing with handkerchiefs around their faces.
"They give us one mask and tell us to use it for 10 days," Farhana, an ASHA worker told NDTV.
"We are called frontline warriors of the pandemic but we go to the field without protection. We need PPE kits. We have been demanding fixed salary of Rs 12,000 - the minimum wage in Karnataka - but the government has not responded. Some 42,000 ASHA will remain on protest till our demands are met," Rama, State Committee Member of an ASHA workers' union, said, adding that they have submitted memorandum to district health officers, commissioners and district magistrates.
An ASHA worker is paid a fixed salary of Rs 6,000 with the rest being incentives based on the number of people they help. "After the pandemic started, the government promised a special allowance of Rs 3,000, but even that has not been paid," Nagalakshmi, an ASHA worker for 5 years, said.
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Pankaj Pandey told mediapersons, "Their payments are up to date. We have taken special care that payments of ASHA workers, nurses and all health workers who are on the frontline in the fight against Covid are done on time."
He added that the ASHA were mainly demanding a fixed salary, "whether ASHA works or not". "Their other demands of insurance have been met. There is no shortage of PPE kits and masks. They have been given all this," the officer said.
In the last 24 hours, Karnataka reported 2,228 fresh coronavirus cases - 1,373 from Bengaluru alone - taking the total to 31,105 of which 12,833 are active.