Workload, late payments: BBMP staff wilt in Covid fight

High workload, late payments: BBMP workers wilt in virus fight

Two workers fudging swab samples allegedly to meet testing targets is a case in point

Representative Image. Credit: PTI Photo

As the fight against Covid-19 drags into another year, the virus continues to chip away at the morale of frontline staff such as doctors, data entry operators and swab collectors working on contract.  

Sources in the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) said the recent incident of two workers in Kodigehalli, Bengaluru, fudging swab samples allegedly to meet testing targets is a case in point. 

An officer in the civic body said the two individuals, who are outsourced workers, had faced erratic salary payments and frustrated by what they felt was a high testing target. Since last week, each Urban Primary Health Centre (UPHC) was given a daily target of 500 Covid-19 tests. 

“Even the filing of an FIR against the errant Kodigehalli workers is not likely to have any effect as they are not permanent staff,” the officer said.

Also read: BBMP sacks workers seen in swab manipulation video

The problem of low morale has been exacerbated since September by salary payment delays, staff shortages, increasing workload and an inability to take consistent weekly offs, said staffers working for the BBMP.

According to a doctor working for the civic body, contract workers ranging from doctors to data entry operators have been working without pay for months.

“An MBBS doctor was hired at a promised salary of Rs 60,000, plus Rs 20,000 in incentives. However, since the middle of last year, payment of salaries have become erratic. August and September salaries were paid only in October,” a BBMP medical worker said on the condition of anonymity.

“A lump-sum was paid in January, but minus Rs 36,000 in taxes,” the source said, adding that at the time of hiring the BBMP had specified that no money will be deducted for taxes.

While the new Chief Commissioner of the BBMP, Gaurav Gupta, told DH that all Covid-related payments are being “taken up on a priority basis,” workers were sceptical. They allege that salaries for the months of February and March have not yet materialised.

Lower-wage workers impacted

Manju (name changed), a swab collector, said non-payment of salaries is badly impacting lower-wage workers. “Our salary is Rs 18,000 per month, including Rs 5,000 in incentives. However, we have not been paid our salary for two months. Worse, we are now hearing that the government will no longer pay incentives,” he said.

The issue comes at a time the government is attempting to scale up testing, vaccination and contact tracing efforts.

Jawaid Akhtar, Additional Chief Secretary (health), said that he will ensure that field staff are paid.

Manju said apathy permeated the middle management. “When we raise the matter with our superiors, they say we can leave the job if we want to,” he said.

Another swab collector said that many of his co-workers are willing to quit if their arrears are paid.

Akhtar added that the government is trying to increase the number of workers to reduce the burden. Gupta asked that salary grievances must be brought to his notice or to his senior officers.