On August 26, a large number of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers gathered at the Lenin Centre in Vijayawada in the State of Andhra Pradesh (AP) in India to oppose the “grade points system in the job chart”. They also sought an honorarium payment for 40,000 workers that has been pending since January. ASHA workers provide vital health services at the ground level, especially aiding pregnant and lactating mothers.
The protest was organized by the Andhra Pradesh ASHA Workers Union. Workers from different districts joined in the thousands and staged a sit-in for the entire day. Some of them were detained in Visakhapatnam and West Godavari districts, along with some leaders of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) who had also participated in the protest.
The main demand of the ASHA workers is the fulfillment of the promises made before the April 2019 elections by the Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSR Congress) party, which subsequently came to power in the State. The workers urged the YSR Congress government to immediately release the honorarium of the workers, which comes to around USD 139 per month. They also raised slogans rejecting the “grading system”, which has been designed to assess their performance on an individual basis.
CITU state general secretary M A Gafoor said the government had completely betrayed the workers who have been repeatedly raising their demands. CITU leader K. Umamaheswara Rao said the ASHA workers very happy when the YSR Congress government had announced an increase in the honorarium from USD 41.9 to USD 139.9, but the decision was revoked shortly after.
AP ASHA Workers Union’s general secretary K Dhanalakshmi termed the government’s plan to pay the honorarium based on the performance of ASHA workers as discriminatory. She said that the new rules, such as the requirement of a high school certificate, would create job insecurity. With consistent low grades, a worker may lose her job.
“According to the grading system, the workers have been divided into A, B and C categories. Workers with A grade will be given INR 10,000 (USD 139.7). Similarly, B grade workers will get INR 5,000 (USD 69.8) and the third category – C grade workers – will be given INR 3,000 (USD 41.9),” the union said in a statement. The grades are determined by the doctor, auxiliary nurse-midwife and other officials. The workers have complained that “getting an A grade is very difficult” and most of them would not be able to draw USD 139 as honorarium. According to Dhanalakshmi, most workers would remain in the C-grade category due to the stringent rules in the job chart.