The ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers union is on strike demanding the government for fair wages and proper equipment, as they go to the most inaccessible places in order to conduct health surveys and provide essential health services to expecting and new mothers, on behalf of the state government.
Nagalakshmi, Ballari state secretary says, “This is a strike not only for us but for the health of the entire state. We have been on continuous strike for the past 10 days, and our workers are all with us in strength. The government should give us equipment as we carry out our duty during COVID times. Many of the ASHA workers have also got the virus, so we are asking for some kind of financial relief package for families of the ASHA workers.”
This comes amid reports of five pourakarmikas in Bengaluru having passed away due to lack of protective equipment.
Besides, ASHA workers have demanded better wages. “The main demand continues to be that the government should give us a minimum honorarium of Rs 12,000 per month,” Nagalakshmi said.
ASHA workers are considered as ‘volunteers’ by the government, and are paid on a rated scale, based on whether they carried out the vaccinations or the distribution of information to the public. After a lot of protests and demands, they were granted an honorarium of Rs 5000. However, this is only if they carry out their duties. With the arrival of COVID, there has been no rating of the work they do and union leaders say that they essentially ‘worked for free’, over the past four to five months of the coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID work is not rated work, there is no fixed price for it and we are not able to make ends meet without pay from the government,” Nagalakshmi added.
This is not the first time that ASHA workers have asked for higher wages for the essential services rendered by them.
Somashekar K Yadgiri, state President of the ASHA workers union said, “We had submitted these same demands to the government during the budget, but though the minister assured us that our demands would be met, we are still fighting for the basics. We have not got any proper response from the Health Minister.”
Somashekar says this is a health emergency but the government is completely silent. “They have given false promises to the women. The reason we are having such a strong strike is because the women have so little equipment that they cover their faces with sarees. The government has given no other equipment besides about three disposable masks. There are no gloves or face shields distributed to the workers,” he added.
The ASHA workers strike has elicited support of many leaders cutting across party lines, including from the ruling BJP and the Congress.