Published: 21st May 2021
Why has the government of Karnataka held the salaries of 42,000 ASHA workers during the pandemic?
Despite working around the clock during the pandemic, around 42,000 Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers haven't received their salaries, which are as low as Rs 4,000
ASHA workers are the ones who visit individual houses with children and mothers and facilitate access to health-related services available at the Anganwadi/sub-centre/primary health centers, such as immunisation, Ante Natal Check-up (ANC), Post Natal Check-up supplementary nutrition, sanitation and other services being provided by the government.
"I don't have a single penny with me and it is really difficult to run home without a salary," says Rajeshwari M who is an ASHA worker in Ballari. She is a single mother and has two school-going children. Having lost her husband two years ago, Rajeshwari works hard to make ends meet. Much like her, there are thousands of workers across the state who haven't received their salaries for the past two months from the State Government and for one month from the Central Government. Rajeshwari says, "What disappoints us more is that we are forced to work even without receiving salaries for more than two months. We are assigned COVID duties almost everyday. As ASHA workers we are supposed to check on the health of pregnant women and lactating mothers and children. However, we are forced to do surveys on the field and do home visits for COVID patients who are under home-isolation."
Asha workers have to upload pictures of home visit on various mobile apps
So what exactly does they do when they are on a COVID duty? Rajeshwari explains, "For instance, if a person in a particular locality has symptoms like a cold or a cough, we need to visit them and provide a medical kit that has five different tablets meant. At the same time, we need to collect data and information on their primary and secondary contacts. If the fever increases and sustains, we are supposed to help them visit the testing centre for swab collection. In case a person has tested positive, we still need to visit their homes, check their oxygen levels and temperature using the oxymeter and thermometer."
They claim that they have not been provided proper masks and sanitiser while having to do COVID duty. "When doctors or nurses visit COVID-19 patients, they wear a PPE kit and many other protective guards to avoid coming in contact with the virus. Unfortunately, in our case, no such luck. Our lives are cheaper to any government that comes to power. So far, I have been given one N-95 mask and six surgical masks. We are using sanitisers provided by some social workers and that's all. Whenever I use the oxymeter and thermometer to test patients, I sanitise them with whatever sanitiser I have," explains Rajeshwari who breaks down as she shares the pressure that comes with working among so many infected people.
Most of these Asha workers are yet to be given vaccination
In addition to this, ASHA workers have to accompany pregnant women to district government hospitals when they go into labour or have an emergency. Rajeshwari says, "Whether the call of duty comes, day or night, we must be ready. In case of emergencies for pregnant women, the patient and their families insist that we accompany them to the hospitals."
While this is the situation in Ballari, the situation in Bengaluru is no different. Farhana, who has been an ASHA worker for six years, says, "Forget salaries, the government hasn't provided us with masks and sanitisers. We bought it with our money, including this face shield that we wear. Besides our salary, we are supposed to get an incentive from the central government. Unfortunately, many ASHA workers in Bengaluru haven't received the incentive for more than a year. Last year, Chief Minister, B S Yeddiyurappa also announced that ASHA workers will be getting Rs 1000 for working on the field during COVID-19. This is the second phase and we haven't received a single penny. Yesterday too, when the state government announced packages for various group and category of workers, we had high hopes. Nothing was announced in favour of Asha workers."
In places like Kalaburgi, Ballari and Raichur districts, Asha workers have to do their field work in extreme hot weather
What does the ASHA Workers' Union say? Everytime, when these issues are reported, the state union come together to protest. This year, they couldn't come out to protest due to the pandemic. However, the union members responsible for the governing of these workers are following up regularly with the department officials. Nagalakshmi, General Secretary for Karnataka Rajya Samyukta Asha Karyakarteyara Sangh affiliated to All India Trade Union Congress, says, "There is not a single minute that my phone doesn't ring for a day or I get messages enquiring about salaries from Asha workers. While the state government provides them with a fixed salary of Rs 4,000, the central government is supposed to pay them Rs 2000 to 3000 every month. This time, the workers haven't received their salaries from both sides. The remuneration they receive is already low and it must be given to them on time. In total, there are 42,000 workers across Karnataka. When we asked the officials about the delay in salary payment, they only told us that it will be paid by the end of May. This month is almost coming to an end and we hope that ASHA workers receive the money they deserve."
Besides low salary or no salary, what worries the workers most is coming in contact with the virus when on duty. According to the reports collected by Nagalakshmi across the state, around 1,000 ASHA workers have tested positive in the past 15 days this month. She explains, "This year, five people have died due to COVID-19 and last year three people have died. Their families and children who are dependent on them suffer. Last year, PM Narendra Modi announced that we or any frontline workers will be provided with Rs 50 lakh compensation under the Garib Kalyana Yojana if they die due to COVID-19. So far, none of these families of deceased members have received compensation of 50 lakh. Whenever we call the concerned officials, they tell us that the documents have been emailed or sent but nothing works in reality."