The following letter would be sent today, September 24, 2021, on behalf of nearly 50 lakh scheme workers employed as ASHAs, Anganwadi workers/helpers, school cooks and other key functionaries that implement various government schemes across the country. Since the government has been unresponsive on their issues, the scheme workers, mostly women, are observing a complete strike today.
September 24, 2021
Shri Narendra Modi
Honourable Prime Minister
Government of India
*Sub:- All India Strike of Scheme Workers on 24 September 2021 for
Safety Gear, Risk allowance and Death Compensation during the pandemic
Regularisation, Minimum Wages, Social Security and Pension to frontline Scheme Workers*
The country is facing one of the biggest challenges since independence- the COVID-19 pandemic and the job and income loss for a large section of the working people. The second wave had revealed the major weaknesses in the health system, especially the public health system of our country. One can recall the total collapse of the health system of our country and the loss of thousands of valuable lives only with shock and grief. The still continuing second wave related health crisis and the possible third wave had revealed the urgent need for proper scientific planning and preparation to massive time-bound free vaccination drive, improve the public health infrastructure, training and recruitment of health personnel etc. In addition to this, the large scale loss of jobs and livelihood due to the lockdown and economic slowdown and the resultant malnutrition and poverty looming large in the country is another major issue.
The governments’ efforts to address the health crisis and malnutrition are totally dependent on the dedicated public sector health workers and frontline workers. A major section of these frontline workers who are the link between the government and the people are the scheme workers. 10 lakh ASHA workers and facilitators are performing round the clock duty, without leave; they are asked to go door to door to conduct surveys, reporting the cases, getting tests done, getting medical help to the infected, monitoring the patients, follow up with the recovered ones and so on. These are in addition to the vaccination duties for almost 8-9 hours a day. Nearly 26 lakh Anganwadi workers and helpers under ICDS are also performing similar duties along with ASHA workers and also distributing the ration door to door to the beneficiaries. Nearly 27 lakh Mid Day Meal workers supply door-to-door ration to school children and perform duties in community centres and quarantine centres. *They are forced to do all the cleaning and menial work in schools from time to time.* There are also other workers under the National Health Mission(NHM) including the 108 Ambulance workers – all of them work at the grassroots level among the community risking their own lives and that of their family members. *Although most of the scheme workers are put on COVID duty, all of them including Anganwadi workers are not even notified as frontline workers.* There are many more government schemes like, NCLP, SSA, NRLM, etc, which employs lakhs of workers who are also working under very poor working conditions.
It is shocking that most of them are not provided with any kind of safety measures, even masks and sanitisers especially in the second wave of the pandemic. Many are termed as ‘Carriers of Corona’ and are being attacked. There are hundreds of cases of them getting infected with COVID -19. Many of them are finding it difficult to get any treatment, leaving aside hospitalization. Hundreds of ASHA workers, Anganwadi workers, MDM workers and other scheme workers died of Corona and many succumbed to stress-related complications during the last eighteen months.
It is most unfortunate that most of the families of the diseased are denied the much-acclaimed compensation of Rs.50 lakhs. From January 2021 onwards, many states told that the scheme has been stopped. The Anganwadi workers are not even notified as frontline workers. Whereas the scheme workers are putting their lives at risk fighting the pandemic, the government did not offer them anything except the announcement of Rs.1000 per month as an ‘additional incentive for COVID-19 duty’ for ASHA workers, that too for six months. The extension of this for a further six months has been made optional and resulted in the situation where ASHA workers did not get it.
Due to the cut in the allocation in the last budget 2021-22 for many of these schemes, even their regular monthly remuneration is pending for many months in many states. At a time like this, they are being threatened with retrenchment and compulsory retirement without any ex gratia or pension, citing the guidelines from the government of India. In addition, in the name of digitization, beneficiaries of various schemes are targeted and the workers are being harassed. *Direct benefits transfers are also being implemented which are detrimental to these schemes.*
As you have mentioned in your speeches many times, the services rendered by the Scheme Workers are of vital importance. But, the challenges faced by these workers are never taken into consideration at any level in spite of recommendations of various fora including Parliamentary Standing Committees and 45th and 46th Indian Labour Conferences. They are not recognized as workers and paid minimum wages. There is no social security or pension for them even after years of service. Even the pittance due to them, as low as Rs.1000 per month in the case of MDM workers, is not being paid regularly. *Your government has not included the scheme workers in the category of workers. Even for registration in the E-Shram Portal, although some of the scheme workers are included, many other scheme workers are left out.*
When various agencies like the WHO and UNICEF have warned about the ensuing large scale poverty due to loss of livelihood, lack of proper public healthcare, and resultant hunger and malnutrition deaths, it is very important that the government must strengthen *the basic services* schemes of public health, *education and* nutritional services by institutionalizing them and recognise the contribution of scheme workers in these services. It is also very important to ensure food and income support to the majority of the people. *But it is shocking that your government is determined to privatise these important schemes by introducing various measures and policies involving corporate and NGOs. The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) and the proposals of NITI Ayog in privatizing and commercializing the health services, the new education policy, involving corporates in ICDS and MDMS etc will lead to the dismantling of these schemes. The implementation of the three Farm Acts especially, the Essential Commodities Act will be the death knell of the schemes like ICDS and MDMS to ensure food security.*
We are quite aware that it is necessary to mobilise financial resources to fight the pandemic. We feel that some of the expenses like for the "Central Vista Project" should be avoided and enough resources can be mobilized by taxing the super-rich.
It is very unfortunate that in spite of continuous representation by the scheme worker’s unions and federations, the NDA government is totally insensitive to the plight of the workers and the beneficiaries. So, we, the scheme workers under the leadership of the trade union federations affiliated to the Central Trade Unions are forced to go on an All India Strike today, 24 September 2021.
We urge you to intervene immediately and to resolve the issues in view of the paramount importance of the services rendered to the Nation.
1. *Notify all the Scheme workers who are deputed in COVID-19 duty as frontline workers.* Ensure immediate Free and Universal vaccination to all with priority to frontline workers. Ramp up vaccine production and bring the distribution under government regulation to ensure universal free vaccination within a definite time frame.
2. Ensure availability of protective gear, equipment etc for all health and frontline workers and those engaged in pandemic-management work including scheme workers. Frequent, random and free COVID-19 test of all frontline workers. Priority hospitalization to frontline workers infected by COVID-19.
3. Allocate 6% of GDP for the health sector. Strengthen the public health system and the health infrastructure to ensure adequate hospital beds, oxygen and other medical facilities to meet the coronavirus surge; Strengthen public health infrastructure including recruiting the necessary health personnel; Ensure non-Covid patients get effective treatment in government hospitals.
4. Rs 50 lakhs insurance cover to all frontline workers covering all deaths on duty; also coverage for total expenses for treatment for COVID-19 for the entire family.
5. Additional COVID Risk Allowance of Rs.10,000 per month for all the contract and scheme workers engaged in COVID -19 duty. Payment of all the pending dues of wages and allowances etc., of all the Scheme workers immediately.
6. Compensation of minimum Rupees Ten lakhs for all those who got infected while on duty.
7. Withdraw the anti-worker Labour Codes. Include scheme workers in the category of workers. *Ensure that all scheme workers are included for registration in the E-Shram portal, pending regularisation*.
8. Make the Centrally Sponsored Schemes like ICDS, NHM and MDMS permanent with adequate budget allocation. Provide adequate additional ration with good quality for all the beneficiaries of ICDS and MDMS immediately; include migrants in these schemes.
9. Implement the recommendations of 45th and 46th ILC for regularization of scheme workers as workers; Pay Minimum wages Rs.21000 per month and pension Rs.10000 per month; Provide ESI and PF to all scheme workers.
10. The existing insurance schemes (a) Pradhan Mantri Jivan Jyoti Bima Yojana, (b) Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and (c) Anganwadi Workers Bima Yojana must be implemented properly with universal coverage applicable to all scheme workers.
11. Mid Day Meal Workers must be paid minimum wages for the period when the schools are closed including the summer holidays; No contractorisation or centralised kitchen.
12. 10 kg foodgrains per person per month to all for the entire corona period. Control price rise; Rs.7500 per month for all non-taxpaying families for six months; Ensure Jobs and income for all.
13. Withdraw the proposals for privatization of basic services including health (including hospitals), nutrition (including ICDS and MDMS) and education. *Withdraw NDHM and NEP- 2020.* Stop Privatisation of PSEs and Services.
14. *Withdraw the anti-people farm Acts which are detrimental to the schemes.
15. Stop targeting the beneficiaries in the name of digitization. Stop harassment of the Anganwadi workers in the name of ‘Poshan Tracker’, ‘Poshan Vatika etc.*
16. Enact legislation for the right to universal healthcare as in the case of the right to food and the right to education.
17. Tax the super-rich for Finance mobilization. Projects such as the "Central Vista Project" be scrapped.
Ministry of Health
Ministry of Women & Child Development
Ministry of Education