Healthcare workers and in particular community health workers in India form the backbone of the nation’s fight against the COVID19 pandemic. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi recognises this and has on multiple occasions referred to health workers as ‘Corona warriors’ but sadly his rhetoric is yet to be materialised into better working conditions and wages for the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) who work at the grassroots level.
Prior to the pandemic and even during the entirety of the COVID19 pandemic, ASHA workers all around the country have been outraging against their exploitative working conditions and abysmally low stipend even as they do frontline work with heightened risks. ASHAs who are recognised as volunteers, work for more than 8-10 hours a day.
In this series, the ASHA workers under the banner of Dilli ASHA Kamgar Union which is affiliated with AICCTU, have been protesting in the national capital New Delhi against the Modi regime and the Delhi government.
They have demanded that for additional Covid-19 duties, a monthly honorarium of Rs 10,000 is provided along with enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits.
Since the onset of the pandemic, as frontline health workers they have to collect door-to-door data on COVID, provide services in the hospitals and local community sanitisation, all of which put them at the direct risk of contracting the virus.
In the absence of even basic protective gear and many ASHA workers have got infected while performing their work duties and many have reportedly succumbed to the virus due to lack of medical care.
The ASHA Kamgar Union which has distributed ration & PPE kits to the ASHAs is now engaged in unionising the workforce so as to improve the bargaining power of the ASHA workers.
Meanwhile, governments at the Union as well as state-level continue to exploit their labour power and at the same time sideline their demands. In Delhi, the ASHA workers are demanding the regularisation of tenure, fixed salary, insurance, and a travel allowance.
Many ASHA workers have also complained of mental health issues as they continue to overwork and engage in emotionally and physically demanding community work with rarely any access to mental health care due to lack of affordability.
Earlier on Friday, the Uttarakhand ASHA Health Workers Union, affiliated to CITU, demonstrated at the district headquarters through the state regarding their 12-point demands.
The protesting ASHA workers demanded that they should be given the status of government employees along with a minimum honorarium of Rs. 21,000, fixing the monthly salary of ASHAs till they get the honorarium and provision for pension on retirement.