COVID-19 groundwork may grind to a halt as ASHAs on strike for two days to demand better pay, pension
The protest has been called by 10 trade unions. The workers have been demanding protective gear, better and regular payment and legal employee status, which ensures minimum pay
Nearly 6 lakh women workers, including Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), anganwadi and mid-day meal workers and other volunteers under National Health Scheme are observing a strike for two days from August 7. This will affect the COVID-19 ground efforts in most states.
Several ASHAs and anganwadi workers died during COVID-19 duty. Except for a couple of cases, no insurance amount was paid to the family. Many ASHA and anganwadi workers have tested positive for Coronavirus, but the government did not extend any help in most cases.
The governments have not provided the basic safety gear to these workers. In many of the states, these workers have not been paid for six months and mid-day meal workers have not got any wages since the lockdown.
The protest, called by 10 trade unions, said the workers will protest and court arrest on Friday and Saturday.The workers have been demanding protective gear, better and regular payment and legal employee status, which ensures minimum pay. They have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 contact tracing in India, maternal benefit schemes, immunisation drives, polio eradication, Integrated Child Development schemes and other programmes.
But they are considered as volunteer workers. This strips them of the many benefits given to permanent employees and these workers are usually paid an average of Rs 2,000 a month.
The workers have been demanding that the government withdraw the proposals for privatisation of basic services in hospitals, nutrition and education. They want the central government to make centrally-sponsored schemes like ICDS, NHM and MDMS permanent with adequate budget allocation. They want minimum wages of Rs 21,000 per month and pension of Rs 10,000 per month besides providing them with other benefits such as insurance and provident fund.
They have been demanding Rs 50-lakh insurance cover to all frontline workers covering all deaths and they have been demanding COVID-19 treatment for the entire family. They have also demanded free COVID-19 tests and treatment to all non tax-paying people.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been sporadic protests and strikes by ASHAs. In July, 40,000 ASHA workers went on strike in Karnataka to demand better safety equipment and a hike in fixed salary to Rs 12,000. Maharashtra ASHAs were miffed that the state had hiked the salary only for ASHA supervisors and not the ASHAs who are doing the work on the ground.
In Assam, AP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu &Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, various scheme workers were protesting.
In Kerala, despite heavy rains, ASHA workers demonstrated in front of central government offices and sent a memorandum to the Prime Minister.
The ASHA scheme was created by the first UPA government in 2005 as part of the National Rural Health Mission. An ASHA works on 70 health programmes and receives Rs 1,000 from the central government for book-keeping, Rs 500 for the data fed on the computer, Rs 250 for mobile bills and Rs 250 to attend monthly meetings.
Apart from this, they are entitled to financial incentives for the number of patients they tend to under various health schemes. They are paid on a piece-rate basis. Their salary is based on the work done through the month. They are required to submit reports by the 25th of every month, but during the lockdown, as their work couldn’t be registered, theirsalaries were delayed. This has caused severe grief in many families as ASHAs are the primary earners.