Mumbai: The historic and successful strike by around 70,000 ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) in Maharashtra entered fifth day on Thursday. The health workers’ strike has paralysed health services at the grassroots level, yet the state government has failed to accept their demands, which include job security, higher honorarium among others. Undeterred, the ASHA, mostly women, have decided to intensify their agitation.
ASHAs are the foot soldiers of health system in the country, including Maharashtra. During these COVID-19 days, ASHAs have helped the state machinery surveying patients to distributing medicines to creating awareness, at times even risking their lives. But, even though they are doing such crucial work, their basics rights and pay scale have been ignored.
All these health workers are demanding is a basic pay scale, as also Rs 300 per day when they are undertaking COVID-19 related duty. Also, they want that their insurance must be supported by state government. It is these basic demands that have been unmet, which has led to thousands of these workers to go on strike.
On Wednesday, health minister Rajesh Tope met a delegation the workers, led by DL Karad, national vice president of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Raju Desale, Shrimant Ghodke and others, who requested the state government to accept their demands and support the hard work done by ASHA workers since the pandemic began last year.
However, during the talks with the health minister, no concrete assurance came from the government. In fact, the minister reportedly told the delegation that due to financial crunch, the state government can't afford right now to increase the pay scale of ASHAs or give them special allowance for COVID-19 duties. He appealed to union leaders to call off strike.
"If the state government does not accept any of our demands, then there is no question of ending the strike. Our demands are not extreme. We are asking for basic pay scale as well as allowance for COVID-19 related work. It is the duty of the state government to support ASHA workers as frontline workers. So, we will continue our strike until our demands are accepted," said Karad.
Meanwhile, the health minister assured the delegation that he would discuss the issues with Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
It is true that state is struggling with finances, but the demands of ASHA workers are genuine and state will have to deal with them. Otherwise, thi will not only demoralise health workers but health and awareness-related work on the ground will also some to a standstill. With the possibility of a third wave of the pandemic looming, Maharashtra can't least afford a demoralised workforce and a paralysed health system on the ground