Frontline health workers in Maharashtra are on an indefinite strike to press for their demands for better wages, workers’ status, and compensation for the 26 ASHAs who lost their lives in the line of COVID duty.
Over 2,000 ASHA workers from Aurangabad district in the state are part of the ongoing strike. Photo: By arrangement
At least 77,000 ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers across Maharashtra are on an indefinite strike from today June 15 in protest against the low honorariums offered to these frontline health workers despite taking additional responsibilities in the COVID-19 pandemic.
These female frontline workers say that unless their demands are met they will continue to boycott their duties. ASHA workers are the backbone of the rural healthcare system and apart from the routine health services such as immunising kids and institutional deliveries, they have been involved in door to door screening of COVID patients, contract tracing, distribution of medical kits and COVID vaccination drives in villages.
“At present, ASHAs are getting only about Rs 2,500 a month honorarium. We demand at least Rs 22,000 a month salary,” Aurangabad-based Mangal Thombre, general secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), an assembly of workers in the country, told Gaon Connection. “We have also demanded for karamchari darza (workers’ status), decent wages, facilities such as conveyance, umbrella, and raincoat for ASHA workers,” she informed.
According to her, the ASHA workers had earlier spoken with the state Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and other ministers, “but the meetings were of no use hence we started this strike. We are very angry with the state government. Unless our demands are met, we will continue our strike,” Thombre warned. Over 2,400 ASHA workers from Aurangabad district in the state are part of the ongoing strike. Thombre is representing them.
Since the second wave of the pandemic in March this year, over one million ASHAs across the country have been carrying out various COVID related activities and there have been reports from various states as to how these women frontline workers have not even been provided the basic safety gear and their rightful remuneration.
Gaon Connection has been consistently reporting on this issue. In several states ASHAs have gone on a strike to get their rightful dues.
In Maharashtra, for instance, these ASHAs on an average earn Rs 2,500 a month, said Thombre. The salary structure of ASHA workers includes a basic payment of Rs 2,000 contributed by the state and the Centre along with additional payment as per their efficiency and the number of people they cover as part of various government welfare schemes.
Last year, at the start of the pandemic, the central government declared a COVID-19 duty incentive of Rs 1,000 a month, or Rs 33 a day, for the frontline health workers. However, on April 30, Gaon Connection reported how a large number of ASHAs haven’t received Rs 1,000 COVID duty allowance for almost a year now.
“ASHAs get only thirty three rupees per day for the COVID duty. At least three hundred rupees per day should be given for surveys,” demanded Thombre. “They [ASHAs] were appreciated but isse pet to nahi bharta (Appreciation does not feed a person)? They need decent wages too,” she said.
Last year, the central government introduced the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package Insurance scheme for all healthcare workers including ASHAs engaged in COVID19 response. The insurance scheme provides a life insurance cover of Rs 50 lakhs [Rs 5 million] in case of death due to the coronavirus.
According to Thombre, since the start of the pandemic last year, at least 26 ASHAs have died due to COVID19 across Maharashtra. “And none of them have received even fifty paisa [Rs 0.5] forget getting fifty lakh [Rs 5 million],” she claimed. Gaon Connection could not independently verify this data.
“Who will take the responsibility of these workers if they contract the virus and die? Whatever survey comes is given to ASHA workers. All of them work because they have a sense of responsibility, but they are being exploited,” said Thombre.
Last month, when a similar strike was initiated by ASHA workers in Karnataka over pending wages, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), took cognizance of the issue and observed that the allegations, if true, “raise very crucial issues as the entire health management system of the vast rural population across India depends upon these ASHA workers”.