‘More Work, Same Old Incentive’: ASHA Workers in Haryana Get Ready for Big Strike
Over 20,000 ASHA workers in Haryana announced the beginning of a three-day long strike on August 8. This strike has been called to raise the demand for hike in their honorarium among other demands that the ASHA workers have been consistently raising through protest demonstrations and a long struggle. They say that if the government administration continues their apathetic attitude toward these demands, they may even take the decision of extending the strike.
This strike is being organised under the banner of ASHA Workers Union and ASHA workers from all districts of Haryana will join the strike and submit their memorandum. The ASHA workers have written several letters to senior officials of the state health department highlighting their demands and problems. However, they allege that their issues have not been paid any attention so far.
It may be noted that the ASHA Workers Union Haryana, associated with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), has organised several protest demonstrations raising their demands. Due to this, the workers are being issued notices of dismissal from their jobs, and retrenchment of existing workers is taking place. Despite this, the ASHA workers continue to carry forward their struggle.
‘Increased workload, but the same old remuneration and incentives’
The union’s state president Surekha told NewsClick, “ASHA Workers carry out the essential work of implementing all the health department’s policies among the common masses at the ground-level. In fact, these workers continued their services even during the difficult Covid-19 pandemic period despite threat to their life. However, the government is trying to get ASHA workers to do extra work for other departments in the name of public welfare, for which no increment in the honorarium has been proposed. This means that while the burden of the work has increased significantly since 2018, the honorarium and incentives offered are still the same as five-six years ago.”
Surekha said, “ASHA workers are the backbone of the primary healthcare services of the country. During the coronavirus pandemic, we were recognised as frontline workers and were given the honour of Global Health Leaders Award by the World Health Organisation. However, the government refuses to even provide us job security. On the contrary, it is accusing us of disrupting work and threatening to dismiss us from our jobs.”
What are the major demands?
● ASHA workers’ honorarium should be increased and they should be given permanent jobs.
● The honorarium and incentives should be combined with the Mehengaai Bhatta (Inflation Allowance).
● All social security benefits including PF and Retirement benefits should be given to the workers.
● Promotions should be given based on experience and eligibility.
● All ASHA Centres should be equipped with all basic requirements along with a proper seating arrangement.
● Extra remuneration should be given for meetings, facilitator visits etc.
● A fair amount should be provided for rent allowance, costs of buying the dress, etc.
Haryana’s ASHA workers say they are being forced to work online without any honorarium. Initially, they were given the responsibilities of the health department but now they are also given the added responsibility of carrying out surveys related to drug abuse and other police department matters. They allege they are neither given any holidays nor any other benefits.
In such a situation, on one hand their workload has increased manifold, and on the other hand, they are being mentally harassed with threats of dismissal from jobs when they refuse to perform these extra duties.
Many ASHA workers said they don’t have much educational qualifications, which makes it utterly difficult for them to understand the work of other departments as also using computers and mobile phones. Other than this, the mobile phones provided to them by the department are of “very poor quality” and these phones keep facing glitches if workers download some apps. Due to the work that is carried out day and night, the workload on ASHA workers has increased significantly, they said.
It is worth noting that the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) already makes mention that ASHA workers are health volunteers who serve as an important link between the government’s healthcare system and the communities they serve. NHM was later expanded to cover urban areas in 2013. At present, approximately 10 lakh ASHA workers are employed in the country but the government refuses to recognise them as employees. Their monthly wages are lower than the legally-mandated minimum wage.
Braving difficult circumstances
There are over 20,000 ASHA workers in Haryana. Under NHM, they are entitled to work-based incentives for over 60 activities listed by the Centre. Other than this, ASHA workers are given an incentive of Rs 2,000 for a set of routine activities. Apart from work-based incentives, the states are allowed to decide the monthly payments for ASHA workers. This amount is set at Rs 4,000 in Haryana. Upon combining all these allowances, the workers receive a total honorarium of Rs 9,000-10,000 thousand, that is too meagre considering present day levels of inflation, they said.
The union leaders said, “The ASHA workers are braving difficult circumstances to make impossible tasks possible, but no one is ready to listen to their woes. Their services have continued in poor and inhumane conditions for several years, from 12 degrees temperature to 44 degrees..day or night, despite the pandemic or seasonal diseases, despite incurable diseases and other challenges. The government has many policies to make these workers work, but no policies to give these workers a dignified and better life. Besides this, many officials and constables named BCPM have been put in charge in the name of inspection. These people are busy threatening the workers and snatching away a large part of what the workers receive.”
Recall that the Assembly elections are set to be held in Haryana this year, and many workers’ organisations, youth, women, and anganwadi workers have organised a front against the government. Everyone is accusing the government of neglect and going back on their promises. In such a situation, the ASHA workers’ strike will definitely pose a new challenge for the ML Khattar-led BJP government.
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