Lucknow: Deployed as front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19 across Uttar Pradesh, scores of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) workers continue to discharge their duties in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency of Varanasi. However, many have not been paid their wages.
Given the strenuous nature of their work they are demanding timely, better wages and a legal status which ensures minimum wages to sustain themselves amid the pandemic.
Most of the ASHA workers in Uttar Pradesh are currently conducting door-to-door surveys for COVID-19, especially in the containment zones.
The Uttar Pradesh Asha Workers’ Association claim they were not paid their salary for the month of May, and that the incentive assured by the government is less than the assistance given to construction workers to compensate for loss of work due to the lockdown.
The association wants the Uttar Pradesh government to pay workers minimum wage, or at least Rs 10,000 per month till the time they are on COVID-19 duty.
Asha workers are community health workers working with the state health missions constituted under the union health ministry’s programmes. They work on the basis of incentives, which are provided for each health activity such as immunisation, hospital delivery and routine checks of people. They are not given a fixed salary. The workers are mostly women, attached to local government-run dispensaries. Each worker caters to about 400 households, mostly near their residence.
According to the association, an Asha worker earns between Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000 per month.
Veena Gupta, the state president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Asha Karamchari Union, said: “Most of us work in high-risk areas. The Rs 1,000 payout is less than the Rs 5,000 the government is paying construction workers and auto-drivers for loss of work,” said Gupta, adding that if one lakh ASHA workers had not risked their lives fighting COVID-19 everyday for the past six months, this state would have collapsed under the weight of its own dysfunctional health mechanism.
“It is because of the door-to-door surveys done by ASHA workers that there is data on COVID-19-related infections. However, despite being out in the field all day, working in containment and red zones, all we get is a Rs 1,000 COVID-19 allowance per month. We don’t get any protective equipment, nor any vehicles; nobody even offers us water or allows us to use their washrooms. How are we expected to work under such conditions, day after day?” Gupta asked.
The association had written to Uttar Pradesh health minister Jai Pratap Singh earlier this month, and are planning on writing to him again, demanding enhanced compensation for those on COVID-19 duty.
“Our salary is based on the work done through the month. We submit our reports on the 25th of each month. Last month, due to the lockdown, our work couldn’t be registered in government records. We are yet to get our salaries. A lot of us are sole bread earners,” said Kamla Devi, an ASHA worker.
Despite several attempts, Jai Pratap Singh could not be reached for a comment.
“It has become difficult for ASHA workers to run their households due to the lockdown. We have requested the UP government to pay Rs 5,000 in addition to the core incentive paid (Rs 3,000) to all ASHA workers. Those who are on COVID-19 duty should be paid Rs 750 per day,” said Lalima Yadav, state coordinator for ASHA workers, All India United Traders Union Centre.
Yadav added that the ASHA workers have been doing the same job for 15 years in the hope that their jobs would be regularised some day, and that they would get fair wages, social protection and decent working conditions.