india how the historic asha workers’ strike help ‘raising salaries’
Nearly 20,000 community health workers in the Indian state of Haryana have been on strike for over a month, affecting the healthcare system of India.
The community health workers employed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare under India’s National Rural Health Mission, known as Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs), have been performing various critical tasks for years. They are also considered an important part of public health care in rural and urban areas of India.
Despite being important to the Indian public health care system, why are they conducting the historic ASHA Workers’ strike? What is the cause behind the strike? Are workers not getting enough salaries?
ASHAs demanding respectable pay
ASHA workers have been demanding a “respectable” salary and better work conditions for months. The ongoing strike in Haryana is part of their struggle to get fair compensation.
They currently get a salary of Rs 4,000 (48.27 United States Dollar), along with other incentives. The workers have repeatedly called it a considerably low salary. They have been demanding a respectable salary of Rs 26,000 (313.71 United States Dollar) per month.
According to knowledgeable sources, ASHA workers in India were getting just Rs 1,000 (12.06 United States Dollar) per month until February 2018.
Sunita Rani, the general secretary of the ASHA Workers Union, recalled the struggles of the workers. She said, “After our prolonged struggle, the salary was increased to Rs 4,000 per month.” She revealed that the government did not give any hike after February 2018.
They have been demanding a permanent government employee status and a monthly salary of Rs 26,000.
Workers, not volunteers
Under the central government’s National Health Mission, ASHAs are considered volunteers and not workers. Despite performing various critical tasks related to maternity, the central government does not recognize them as public sector workers. They are deprived of basic labor rights, including a minimum salary, sick leave, and pensions.
According to the ASHA workers, the Indian government has been adding several new duties without any increase in salaries.
Sunita Rani told the Indian media, “When we demand a respectable salary like other government employees, we are told that we are voluntary workers.”
The workers have urged the government to revise their salaries. They have also demanded safety tools at the workplace and compensation in case of illness or injury.
Haryana Health Minister to meet ASHA workers
Anil Vij, Haryana Health Minister, is set to hold a meeting with the representatives of ASHA workers on 13 September. Haryana Health Minister Anil Vij said that he would listen to their grievances in order to help them.
During the Monsoon session of the Assembly in August, Anil Vij said that ASHA workers in Haryana already get the highest allowance in India. However, ASHA workers denied such claims.
World Health Organization recognizes ASHAs
Last year, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) received an award from the World Health Organization (WHO) for their outstanding services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being a part of a workforce of over one million women across India, they were at the forefront of healthcare delivery and played an important role in India’s response to the prevention of COVID-19. They were also called ‘corona warriors’ for delivering urgent health services to rural women in rural areas.