Karnataka: NHM staff to go on strike from Sept 24 despite announcement of Covid-19 risk incentive

Days after 4,968 doctors of the health department strong-armed the government into allocating Rs. 125 crore for a raise in their salaries, the Karnataka State Health and Medical Education Department Contractual and Outsourced Employees Association (KSHCOEA) members have called for a strike from Thursday demanding salaries on par with the permanent staff of the health department.

This includes nearly 30,053 National Health Mission (NHM) workers, comprising staff nurses, ambulance drivers, data entry operators, lab technicians, Ayush doctors, and midwives. They had last called for a strike on June 4.

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In order to appease them, the government on Monday announced Covid Risk Allowance ranging from Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 10,000 for 14,252 NHM employees comprising MBBS/AYUSH medical officers, anaesthetists, physicians, paediatricians, staff nurses, auxiliary nurse midwives, lab technicians and pharmacists. However, this is less than half of 30,053 contractual employees working under the NHM in 189 categories, and did not convince the Association to call off their move for the strike.

NHM employees have long been asking to be paid the same amount as the permanent staff of the health department. A regular MBBS doctor earns Rs. 88,000 per month over Rs. 45,000 earned by a contractual doctor. A permanent AYUSH doctor earns Rs. 56,000 over Rs. 21,000 by a contractual one.

A permanent staff nurse earns Rs. 35,000 over Rs. 12,500 by a contractual one. Similarly, a permanent ANM earns Rs. 35,000 over Rs. 10,500 by a contractual one. A regular lab technician earns Rs. 35,000 over Rs. 13,000 by a contract employee.

Vishvaradya H Yamoji, President of  KSHCOEA, said that there is no difference in the nature of work down by the two, whether contractual or permanent. However, Health Commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey has maintained that job security and regularisation of contractual employees is not possible as NHM is a union government programme and that other health department contract staff will holler for regularisation if NHM employees are made permanent.

On June 3, the state government formed a committee to look into the demands of salary hike and the Association called off the strike. But in the past three months, despite three meetings, no wage revision decision has been made, Dr Shashidhar, Chief Finance Officer, NHM said. 

Yamoji told DH, “The Covid risk incentives are to appease us and convince us to call off the strike but we will go ahead. Despite adding the incentives, our salaries don’t match the permanent staff’s salaries. Besides, incentives have been earmarked for less than half of our staff, not all. After Covid, we will stop getting those incentives as well. What after the pandemic?”

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