“Patna and Delhi, open your ears and listen, ASHA workers must be paid monthly honorarium”, raising this slogan, nearly one lakh Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers from Bihar are on an indefinite strike since December 1. The state-wide indefinite strike has been called by the ASHA Sanyukt Sangharsh Manch- a joint platform of various unions and associations- highlighting their long pending demands.
Though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “promised” a meagre hike in the monthly honorarium of ASHAs and Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANMs), in September this year as a Diwali gift, nothing has been implemented so far. In his unfulfilled promise, the PM had declared that workers who drew an honorarium of Rs. 3,000 would get Rs. 4,500 and those who get Rs. 2,200 would get Rs. 3,500.
The promises were supposed to be implemented from the month of October and the workers were supposed to get the benefits in their salaries from November. Along with this, the PM had also given the assurance that the workers would be brought under the social security schemes- Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Bima Yojana and Prime Minister Suraksha Bima Yojana. All these remain as broken promises till now.
Read More: Asha Workers and the Ongoing Struggle for Minimum Wage
The striking workers have also put forward a 12-point charter of demands, which includes: government employee status for ASHA workers; minimum Rs. 18,000 monthly honorarium; 50 per cent reservation in nursing schools for eligible ASHA workers; after training ASHA workers to be given exemption in age limit and appointed as ANMs; 50 per cent BCM (Block Community Coordinators) posts for eligible ASHA facilitators; ASHA workers should get benefit of all high level committee recommendations including work terms and conditions and honorarium; ESI (Employees’ State Insurance), EPF (Employees Provident Fund) and social security for all ASHA workers.
As the workers across the state have rallied under the banner of ASHA Sanyukt Sangharsh Manch, the Primary Health Centres have come to a standstill. The striking workers have successfully blocked the vaccination drive of December 5. Apart from that the Public Health Centres across the state were gheraoed by the ASHAs from December 1 to 8.
Civil surgeons across the state will be gheraoed on December 10, said Shashi Yadav, one of the leaders of the joint campaign committee. If the government still does not listen to the ASHA demands, the chief minister will be gheraoed on December 13-14 in Patna, she added.
Read More: Midday Meal Workers Protest, Demand Increased Wages, Social Security
However, the Left parties including CPI (Communist Party of India), CPI(M) [Communist Party of India (Marxist)], CPI-ML (Marxist-Leninist), SUCI (Socialist Unity Centre of India), RSP (Revolutionary Socialist Party) and AIFB (All India Forward Bloc) have come out in support of the striking workers. The joint statement issued by CPI state secretary Satyanarayan Singh, CPI(M) State Secretary Avdesh Kumar, SUCI State Secretary Arun Kumar, Forward Bloc's US Mahato and RSP’s Virendra Thakur urged the Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to intervene in the issues of the ASHAs.