On Monday, thousands of ASHA workers and community health workers under the umbrella of CITU (Centre for Indian trade unions) arrived from all of 13 districts to stage a protest at Lenin Circle in Vijayawada under the slogan of Chalo Vijayawada.
The new Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Jagan Mohan Reddy, made several promises before state elections. One of his prepoll promises was salary increment up to Rs.10,000 for ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers. Many ASHA workers had voted overwhelmingly in favour of Reddy because of these promises but that they were now disappointed.
Four months after the Andhra Pradesh government came to power, the salary increment remains pending for eight months. The implementation of a new grading system has also made their job precarious. The state leaders of the Andhra Asha Union say that even though the names of Asha operatives are included on all government web sites, they are not considered government employees but are deprived of identity cards and other facilities.
The grading system
Instead of payment of pending salaries, the government has introduced a grading system from the month of August, according to which workers will be categorised into three grades, A, B, and C. The worker’s grades are said to depend on the services provided by them, and the salary is issued depending on their grading after review by district officials, which means only workers falling in category A can receive a payment of Rs 10,000. The amount would reduce with every demotion and if a worker happened to be in C grade for a period of three months, she would be effectively removed from her job. The B and C grade workers are not getting the Rs 10,000 that was promised by Jagan Mohan Reddy.
According to The Hindu, ASHA workers union State General Secretary K. Dhanalakshmi said that the new rules create job insecurity, as consistently low grades, can lead to the worker losing her job. Also, as per the new rule, only workers with a matriculation certificate were eligible for the job, which was not the case earlier.
“We have been serving the people of the State for 15 years now without any educational qualification. This is the only thing we can do best. The government cannot remove us from the job on the basis of our education. We will fight to keep our jobs,” she said.
Meanwhile, police have stopped many buses with ASHA workers from reaching Vijaywada. Several ASHA workers in Visakhapatnam who staged a sit-in at Gandhi Statue, and were to take part in the Vijayawada protest, were detained by the police. The police also reportedly filed cases against CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Unions) leaders. Police have also detained ASHA workers in West Godavari district’s Palakollu Mandal for protesting as a part of the same campaign.
ASHA workers from an intermediary link in villages between few primary health centers and the villagers. They ensure the government’s health schemes are implemented in villages across the country. In many states, these workers are not paid regular salaries and are only given incentives for specific functions they perform, such as immunisation. There are nearly 45,000 health workers in Andhra Pradesh. The previous government, led by the Telugu Desam Party, paid an honorarium of Rs 3,000 per month to the ASHA workers and performance-based incentives.