Sunita Auti, an ASHA worker from Vadgaon Kandali village in Pune district of Maharashtra, was on a week-long strike with her colleagues since June 15 with the demand to raise their pay scale. She has worked on the ground for all of last year during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sunita’s area of work, Aale Phata, is a populous junction of North Maharashtra, Konkan and Western Maharashtra regions. In the second wave, Aale Phata saw a big rise in Covid-19 patients.
Sunita was working overtime to trace the patients and sending the data to her tehsil health officers. But in return, she was getting a measly salary of Rs 1,800 per month. Risking her life for just a small amount seemed like an injustice to her. Thus, she and her colleagues have demanded a raise in pay scale, which has been ignored by the state government time and again. Therefore, she along with 70,000 ASHA workers and block workers went on strike.
On Wednesday, June 23, after a week of staging a strike, the Maharashtra health department accepted the demands of AASHA workers. Now ASHA workers will get a hike of Rs 1,000 in monthly payment as well as a Rs 500 special allowance for Covid-19 related work.
"I am happy that our salary will be increased from July. Also, we will get insurance cover. We almost do all the work related to health, especially, through our door to door visits. This pay hike will at least be respectable for us," said Sunita.
"This is a victory of the unity of ASHA workers. First, the state government ignored our demands. But our sisters stayed strong. Their demand was legitimate and long pending. We hope the implementation will be done immediately," said MA Patil, a member of ASHA Workers Joint Action Committee.
Around 67,000 ASHA workers and 3,000 block workers will get the benefit of the new announcement. Block workers too will get Rs 1,200 hike and Rs 500 for Covid-19 related work.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi government has also accepted other demands of the workers such as granting Rs 50 lakh as insurance cover to the family of ASHA workers who died of Covid-19. State Health Minister Rajesh Tope assured ASHAs of immediate starting of procedure of insurance for the families of deceased workers. Also, the government accepted that ASHA workers will be treated in government hospitals. Moreover, those who attack ASHA workers while working will be strictly punished. The workers will get residence service in district headquarters, as per demands made by the union of ASHA workers.
Chhaya Tambe, an ASHA worker from Kondaye, Damare village of Sindhudurg district, has tested positive for Covid-19. Her husband Siddharth, two children, mother-in-law are also Covid-19 positive. First, she got ill and then her entire family fell sick. She was tirelessly working for all these months amid the pandemic. With the hike in pay scale, she thinks that her hard work is now giving some return.
"I got infected because I kept going out for work. Hereafter, we will get more money and also, get treatment in district hospitals. It is a relief for us," said Chhaya.
DL Karad, the national vice president of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), led the negotiations with the state government. He said that these negotiations will boost the morale of ASHAs as well as similar workers who work on the last step of hierarchy. "Now we have written assurances. The implementation will be done immediately. This is justice to 70,000 ASHA workers who were till now being treated as least important persons in the healthcare system," said DL Karad.