Mid-day meal workers in Karnataka, who have been demanding better wages and other working conditions for long, have been pushed into further distress with the closure of schools across the state due to COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, more than one lakh mid-day meal workers, mostly women, in Karnataka have not got thier wages for the last five months.
According to official data, there are 1,17,999 mid-day meal workers in the state under the Akshara Dasoha scheme. These workers are often referred to as Akshara Dasoha. Head cooks uner this scheme get a monthly salary of Rs 2,700 and assistants get Rs 2,600. But, with the schools closed, these workers are struggling to make both ends meet as they are left with no work or wages.
Though the workers and their unions have made multiple requests to the state government to formulate a cohesive support plan, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government is yet to act on it. On Monday, the mid-day meal workers held a protest demostration outside the residence of state education minister S. Suresh Kumar. The protest was held under the banner of Karnataka Rajya Akshara Nowkarara Sangha (Karnataka State Akshara Dasoha Employees Organisation), affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
According to Karnataka Rajya Akshara Nowkarara Sangha, the mid-day meal workers, who have now been deployed at the COVID-19 quarantine centres of the government, are yet to receive wages. Also, some schools have been asking these workers to do cleaning work without pay.
“Some teachers are asking these women to come to school and sewwp the floors without pay, sanitise toilets and disburse rice to kids,” said Malini Mesta, general secretary of Karnataka Rajya Akshara Nowkarara Sangha.
The joint director of midday meal scheme in the state, MR Maruthi, however, said the workers were hired to cook food and could not be given any other work. He also added “we will discuss what needs to be done to help them.”
Read more:Behind Scheme Workers’ Plight, ‘Undervaluation’ of Women’s Labour
As the mid-day meal workers are already part of a government scheme, they cannot apply for jobs under MGNREGA like schemes. When some workers did apply for work under MGNREGA, the panchayat authorities said they don’t qualify since they already work with the government. With no other jobs available, more than one lakh mid-day meal workers in the state have been left penniless.
This is not just the case of mid-day meal workers in Karnataka. Scheme workers, such as Anganwadi and ASHAs, across the country have been pushed into distress during the pandemic.
Highlighting their travails, scheme workers across the country had gone on a two-day strike on August 7, which, the union leaders said, they were ‘forced’ to in a bid to draw attention to their plight.