15,000 Karnataka health workers protest, seek fixed pay, perks

Over 15,000 Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) from across Karnataka joined an indefinite protest for the second day here on Friday, demanding regularisation of their jobs, fixed salaries and welfare schemes for the workers.

Undeterred by the lashing rain, thousands of ASHA women from various districts of the state gathered at Freedom Park here. They are demanding a regular monthly pay of Rs 6,000.

ASHAs are the trained female community health activists under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) of the National Health Mission (NHM), so as to provide a connect between the community and the public health system.

The women are trained by the government to provide information to people in rural areas about health, sanitation, nutrition, conduct ante-natal and post-natal checkups, and assist women during their deliveries, etc.

In rural areas, there is one ASHA worker for every 1,000 people. There are a total of about 37,000 ASHAs in Karnataka.

“The central government has not fixed any salary for ASHA workers. It is only performance-based incentives based on 38 different activities that the workers have to take part in,” D. Nagalakshmi, Secretary of Karnataka State ASHA Workers’ Association, told IANS at the protest venue.

“Considering the amount of work our women put in each month, including attending to delivery calls even at night, there has been no proper payment system. Some haven’t received their payments for over three months,” she said.

“Some workers receive a meagre Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 a month, which is not enough as many women are the breadwinners for their families.”

“We demand a regular monthly scale of Rs 6,000 for the workers as it is in other states,” Nagalakshmi said.

The online payment system named ‘ASHA Soft’, introduced by the central government, had been creating immense difficulties in claiming their pay, the workers said.

“There is only one computer operator for many villages, who updates all the tasks we take every month, so the payment can be made,” R. Nagomi, an ASHA from Raichur district, told IANS.

“The operators many a time fail to upload the data, due to which we don’t get paid though we toil day and night,” the 40-year-old Nagomi said.

“We demand that the ASHA Soft system be scrapped, as it is leading to problems in timely disbursal of our hard earned money,” stated Nagalakshmi.

The state government implementing the scheme in Karnataka agreed on Thursday to give Rs 5,000 to each of the workers.

“ASHA workers are entitled to get about Rs 13,000, but due to administrative difficulties, many of you are not receiving even Rs 1,500,” Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare) Shalini Rajneesh told the workers on Thursday.

“We will appoint a data entry operator at the taluk level and every ASHA worker will get Rs 5,000 a month, which includes the commitment from both state and central governments,” she said.

But ASHA workers stuck to their demands and continued the protests on Friday as well.

“Once it is announced that all the workers will get Rs 6,000, our protest will be called off,” Nagalakshmi said.

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