Protesting Medical Workers Under National Health Mission Demand Regularisation
Medical workers hired under the National Health Mission Scheme (NHM) have been protesting in Bengaluru for 15 days. They are insourced contract workers, and their demand is to be made into permanent employees.
Around four months ago, the workers formed the Karnataka state Health and Family Welfare Department NHM In-sourced Workers Association (NHM union). While various associations represented workers of different cadres (departments), the workers felt it was more prudent to bring all in-sourced employees under one umbrella organisation.
The union leaders claim that at least 22,000 in-sourced NHM employees work across Karnataka. They say that at least half of these workers are on strike and have come to Bengaluru to protest in batches. These numbers are unverified. As per union leaders, ‘in-sourced employees’ refer to workers recruited directly by the government after the applicants clear the relevant exams. Their salaries are shared by the central and state governments in a 60:40 ratio. However, they are still contract workers.
PN Radha, 45, is a nurse who works at a Community Health Centre (CHC) in the Chitradurga district. She arrived in Bengaluru with one of her two children and has been at the protest site for the last 15 days; she was visibly upset. Speaking to NewsClick, she said, “When I first joined this job, I had a salary of Rs 3,000/month. After 16 years of service, my salary is still around Rs 14,000/month. During these times of extraordinary price rise, how will we bear household expenses, children’s education, house rent and medical bills? Since we are contract workers, we don’t even receive bank loans. We don’t have any facilities. Even though we worked so hard during the pandemic, we only received a shower of flower petals and the banging of bells and plates. This will not fill our bellies. Giving us a 15% hike translates to only Rs 1500. Did we work so hard during the pandemic only for Rs 1500? If you (the government) want to repay your debt to us, make us permanent employees.”
Dayanand, 46, is the president of the North Karnataka unit of the NHM union. Speaking to NewsClick, he said, “NHM staff have been regularised in six states, and most recently, in Telangana. In Haryana, the government accepted their demands after a 62-day protest. We are prepared for a long fight as well. KPCC President DK Shivakumar met all of us recently and promised to regularise the workers if Congress came to power in the state.”
Dayanand has a Diploma in Medical Lab Technology (DMLT) from KIMS Hubballi. After 21 years of service, he has a salary of Rs 36,000/month.
182 Departments of NHM
NHM staff comprises 182 cadres, including nursing, lab assistants, physicians, psychiatrists, District Leprosy Consultants, dental surgeons, data entry operators and others. Nursing and Community Health Officers (CHO) constitute the bulk of the staff; they are required to have a BSc degree in Nursing.
Prabhu, 36, a CHO from Gadag district, works at a Health and Wellness Centre (HWC). He said, “CHOs in Karnataka are doing everything from medical checkups to sweeping and cleaning the medical centres. We go from door-to-door to treat both the elderly as well as newborn babies. We work closely with ASHA workers. We are tasked with identifying diseases in the community like Dengue, Chikungunya, Tuberculosis, Malaria, Leprosy and a host of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Every month we collect and send around 50 blood smears to PHCs to check for underlying ailments. Even though we do such essential work, we all have only six-year contracts. Four contract workers' salaries are equivalent to one permanent worker's.”
The protestors have complained about the mounting expenses being borne by them. Each has to spend between Rs 500-1000 saily on lodging and food. Moreover, they are missing home and family. It is even not an uncommon sight to see several women sitting at the site with little children.
Several organisations and political parties have supported the workers. On February 27, members of Kannada organisations visited the protest site and made speeches to raise the morale of the protestors. JD(S) MLC TA Sharavana made lunch arrangements for them, while the Republican Party of India (Athavale faction) relocated their camp to a larger and more prominent ground.
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