Frontline workers, including Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers and Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)’s sanitation workers, popularly known as pourakarmikas, Friday staged multiple protests in the city demanding better safety arrangements and working conditions, and timely payment of their salaries amid the coronavirus crisis.
“None of our concerns have been addressed even after repeatedly writing to the BBMP for personal protective gear, medical checkups and coverage under the Rs 50 lakh insurance scheme,” Maitreyi Krishna of the BBMP Pourakarmika Sangha said in a statement.
Earlier, the workers union had written to the authorities demanding them to formulate a Standard Operating Protocol (SOP) for pourakarmikas. Among the major demands were calls for the distribution of full PPE kits, ensuring strict steps to ensure waste in containment zones and quarantine houses are collected as per SOPs, health check-up, and daily screenings.
“A master health check-up of all pourakarmikas must be immediately carried out on a war-footing. Sick leave should be provided with pay, which, if not implemented, leads to workers continuing to work despite illness due to economic compulsions,” the letter submitted to top officers of BBMP read.
Further, the sanitation workers are also concerned about the safety of their families, given the lack of beds and timely treatment of patients testing positive lately.
“What will we do if we take the infection to our children? We pick up used masks and gloves every day with our hands. Who will pay the medical bills? We demand medical insurance so our families do not suffer because of the failures of the BBMP,” Narayanamma, a pourakarmika said.
At the same time, the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) urged the government to sanitise all equipment on a daily basis apart from providing better working conditions to the pourakarmikas.
“Pourakarmikas who are safeguarding us by maintaining sanitation are equally on the frontline. Mustering points must have drinking water, toilets, changing rooms, and taps to allow pourakarmikas dignity and safety. BBMP must respond to the demands of frontline workers who undertake the mammoth task of keeping the city clean,” AICCTU said in a statement.
Meanwhile, The Karnataka Rajya Samyuktha ASHA Karyakarteyara Sangha, a union of ASHA workers in the state, Friday made an appeal to the state government to pay them a fixed honorarium of Rs 12,000 per month.
“There has been absolutely no response from the state government to at the least examine the demands of the ASHA workers through a dialogue/discussion with the leading members of the Union despite making several attempts to bring the attention of the authorities,” the committee affiliated to the All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) stated.
According to the BBMP, there are 17,000 pourakarmikas deployed to work in the city while around 13,000 go to the field daily. “However, the numbers have been falling daily as many of them are from neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and are finding it difficult to return to their work since lockdown measures are in place in selective areas,” a BBMP official said.
Another official said the civic body is looking into the matter and that it considers the safety of its frontline workers as “an important issue”.
The official added there is a difference of opinion among the pourakarmikas on the usage of long brooms due to practical purposes.
“However, we are ensuring our frontline warriors are not sent to containment zones without adequate personal protective equipment. We are awaiting orders from the state government on the matter regarding their medical insurace scheme,” the officer from the Solid Waste Management team of the BBMP said.
As of June 27, as many as 23 pourakarmikas tested positive for Covid-19 in the city. BBMP Commissioner B H Anil Kumar had then said that the results were obtained after 94 of them were subjected to a random testing drive and claimed that adequate treatment and medical help was provided to all those who tested positive.
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