Bengaluru: Karnataka’s management of the pandemic ran into a fresh hurdle on Thursday when 30,000 contractual staff working under National Health Mission (NMH) struck work, even as the government ordered district officials to crack down and take action against them.
Karnataka state health and medical education department contractual employees’ forum includes doctors, nurses and data entry operators. While clinical staffers are working, data entry operators have struck work.
These employees are tasked with sending reports to the state headquarters and play a prominent role in Covid-19 data management. They also run front offices in most hospitals, handle clerical work like admissions and OPD referrals and tabulate public health work.
The employees held a token protest on Wednesday, sending state’s data into disarray. Only four districts reported fatalities, bringing the day’s toll down to 38 from 100-plus. Zero discharges were reported from 15 districts, inflating the tally of active cases.
On Thursday, members of the forum submitted their memorandum to district authorities, seeking early settlement of their demands. Contract workers are demanding Covid-risk incentives which other doctors, nurses, auxiliary nurse midwives, lab technicians and pharmacists are drawing.
“Job security, equal pay for equal work and insurance cover are some of our demands. Unless these long-pending demands are met, we will not return to work,” said forum president Vishwaradhya HY.
The impact of the protest was acute. In Bengaluru, KC General hospital, the ART centre and the TB testing unit are likely to remain non-functional from Friday if the protest continues.
“We have 15 contractual staffers under NHM. They worked till the afternoon and left. They informed us that they will not be working from tomorrow. We will have to make alternative arrangements,” said Dr BR Venkateshaiah, medical superintendent, KC General.
Arundhati Chandrashekar, mission director, NMH, Karnataka, in a circular on Wednesday, came down hard on protesters saying their behavior was “inappropriate” given the pandemic scenario. She directed deputy commissioners to take strict action against staff who don’t cooperate.
Arundhati told TOI several districts sent Covid reports on Thursday. “If the risk incentive is extended to all employees under NHM, there will be a similar demand from all state government employees,” she said.
Health commissioner Pankaj Kumar Pandey said most of the demands of the staff were met including the hike in salary and Covid risk allowance for medical, paramedical staff. “A committee formed by the government has looked into their demands. Their salary has been increased. It’s time all employees of the health department work together.”