As the Andhra Pradesh Anganwadi workers’ indefinite strike demanding pay hikes and other improvements in their job conditions entered its 26th day, the state government issued an order prohibiting them from striking for the next six months. A government order dated January 6 from the Department for Women, Children, Differently Abled and Senior Citizens declared the services of Anganwadi workers and helpers an essential service under the Andhra Pradesh Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1971. Invoking Section 3 of the Act, which empowers the government to prohibit strikes in any essential service, the order said, “The government hereby prohibits strikes by Anganwadi workers and Anganwadi helpers at all Anganwadi centres for a period of six months.”
Anganwadi workers and helpers in Andhra Pradesh have been on strike for nearly a month now with several demands. Anganwadi workers are currently paid Rs 11,500 per month, while helpers get Rs 7,000. Their demands include hiking monthly wages to Rs 26,000, extending benefits like gratuity and insurance available to government employees, and regularising their jobs. Ten days into the strike, the state government released funds worth Rs 80 crore to meet their immediate demands, including paying rent arrears for Anganwadi centres. It also issued an order allowing workers to claim travel allowance and dearness allowance every two months.
The government also increased the upper age limit for the job to 62 years, and announced a bonus of Rs 1 lakh for workers and Rs 40,000 for workers on completing 62 years. However, Anganwadi workers termed this a ‘PR exercise’. They had also said that they planned to intensify their strike if the government did not meet all their demands by Sankranthi in mid-January. Tension prevailed on multiple occasions as police detained several Anganwadi workers across the state.
The government order prohibiting the strike by invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act said that the government had engaged in discussions and fulfilling “majority of the demands” put forth by Anganwadi workers and helpers. It said that having issued an appeal to the protesters and “having exhausted all available avenues for resolution,” the government felt that the strike was “inflicting grave hardship and inconvenience” to the pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children of ages zero to six from marginalised sections as they could not access the supplementary nutrition services under the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme.
Due to the strike, the daily attendance of approximately 7.5 lakh pre-school children at Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) had dropped significantly to only two lakh children, the order said. It also said there was a notable absence of new registrations, particularly of pregnant women and lactating mothers amounting to approximately 45,000 individuals per month. “This situation is adversely affecting essential services such as growth monitoring of malnourished children aged 0 to 6 years, immunisation, health check-ups and referral services,” it said.