On Wednesday, June 23, the health department of Maharashtra State in India partially accepted the demands of the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) who were on strike for over a week. As per the announcement, the ASHA workers will get a monthly hike of Rs 1,000 (USD 13.49) and a Rs 500 (USD 6.74) special allowance for COVID-19 related work.
Around 67,000 ASHA workers and 3,000 block workers will get the benefit of the new announcement. Block workers will get a hike of Rs 1,200 (USD 16.9) and Rs 500 (USD 6.74) for COVID-19 related work.
“I am happy that our salary will be increased from July. Also, we will get insurance cover. We almost do all the work related to health, especially, through our door to door visits. This pay hike will at least be respectable for us,” said Sunita Auti, an ASHA worker from Vadgaon Kandali village in Pune district of Maharashtra.
Sunita was working overtime to trace COVID-19 patients and send the data to the designated health officers. She was paid a meager salary of Rs 1,800 (USD 24.28) per month despite risking her life. State apathy compelled her to participate in the protest seeking a raise in pay, a demand which has continuously been ignored by the State government.
“This is a victory for the unity of workers. First, the state government ignored our demands. But our sisters stayed strong. Their demand was legitimate and long pending. We hope the implementation will be done immediately,” said MA Patil, a member of the ASHA Workers Joint Action Committee.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi government in the State has accepted some other demands of the workers, including a total sum of Rs. 50 lakh as insurance cover for the families of ASHA workers who die of COVID-19. ASHA workers are essential for last mile delivery of health schemes and services in the country, especially during the pandemic period.
State health minister Rajesh Tope assured ASHA workers that the insurance process for the families of the deceased workers would be started immediately. The government also accepted the demand that ASHA workers will be treated in government hospitals. The workers will get residence service in district headquarters, as per the demands made by the union of ASHA workers.
“I got infected because I kept going out for work. Hereafter, we will get more money and also, get treatment in district hospitals. It is a relief for us,” said Chhaya Tambe, an ASHA worker from Kondaye, Damare village of Sindhudurg district.
D.L. Karad, the national vice president of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), led the negotiations with the Maharashtra State government. He said that these negotiations will boost the morale of ASHAs and other workers at the grassroots level.
“Now we have written assurances. The implementation will be done immediately. This is justice to 70,000 ASHA workers who were till now being treated as least important persons in the healthcare system,” said Karad.
(with inputs from Newsclick)