70,000 Asha workers in Maharashtra were on strike from June 15th demanding labour rights and minimum wages as per 7th pay commission. The State government was non receptive until very recently.
On Wednesday, Maharashtra Health Minister, Rajesh Tope announced that ASHA workers will be getting an increment of Rs. 1000 added to their wages and Rs. 500 as Covid-19 relief, per month. In addition they will also be receiving a smart phone. This announcement came after protests held by ASHA workers, where they demanded wage hikes among other measures for their welfare and security.
Tope announced that group heads of ASHA workers, who monitor daily functioning will be getting a permanent increment of Rs. 1200 per month, with an additional Rs. 500 per month as Covid-19 allowance. ASHA workers who have been volunteering at vaccination centers will be receiving a Rs. 200 allowance as well. The kin of ASHA workers who have died will also be getting a compensation of Rs. 50 Lakh according to the minister. `
The ASHA workers in Maharashtra withdrew their strike owing to the Covid-19 allowance and wage revision agreed upon by the Govt. and the ASHA unions.
ASHAs or Accredited Social Health Activists, are an all-women healthcare workforce that “acts as the interface between communities and the public health system in India”. While the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare still recognises them as “health volunteers”, ASHA workers have continually demanded to be recognised as front-line health workers requiring access to basic necessities and securities. The label of “health volunteer” undermines these demands to a large extent.
An ASHA is a resident of a particular community, who is trained to improve the health status of the people in that community, by making sure that healthcare is accessible to them. According to an article on Firstpost, their responsibilities are largely split into three main functions:
“facilitating access to healthcare facilities and accompanying women and children, that of a community health worker (depot-holder for selected essential medicines and responsible for treatment of minor ailments), and of a health activist (creating health awareness and mobilizing the community for change in health status).”
For the amount of work that they do, and the hours put in, they only receive around Rs. 1,000 and Rs 3000. Over the past two years, ASHA workers in various states have been protesting and holding strikes to highlight the negligence of the government towards them, especially during the pandemic. Delayed or non-payment of salaries, lack of measures to vaccinate ASHA workers, lack of safety equipment such as masks, gloves and PPE suits, are some of the key issues unions have raised in the past year and a half.