Home News Gurgaon News Pay us adequately, that’s the biggest award: Asha workers

Pay us adequately, that’s the biggest award: Asha workers


Gurgaon: Anju Bala was unmoved when she found out that the World Health Organization (WHO), the health body of the United Nations, had awarded one million women Asha workers the prestigious Global Health Leaders Award, 2022.
“It’s sad and funny at the same time. Today, I’m counted among the million Asha workers who received this honour… and a few months back, I was abused, slapped, kicked and suspended from work for demanding the Rs 500 promised to us for working on Covid duty,” the 45-year-old said.
Bala, from Ambala, has been an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker under the National Health Mission (NHM) for a decade. Her story isn’t an anomaly. Over 22,000 Asha workers in Haryana have complained of high workload, inadequate salaries and nonpayment of incentives. Their protests to demand their rights, they alleged, have triggered a barrage of backlash.
Unsurprisingly, they don’t rejoice in being given the award by the WHO, which announced on Sunday that it was honouring the women volunteers for their “crucial role in linking the community with the health system and ensuring that those living in rural poverty can access primary health care services”.
Subsequent praise by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who congratulated the Asha workers for their “dedication and determination” isn’t enough, they said. “Treat us as equals and pay us adequately, that will be the biggest award for us,” Bala said on Monday.
Employed as volunteers under NHM, Asha workers are the foot soldiers of government healthcare schemes. They work at the grassroots level, facilitating maternal health care, vaccination drives, nutritional care for adolescent girls, menstrual health management, and awareness programmes for healthy living and disease mitigation. Besides this, they are the people who go door-to-door to carry out surveys for governments across the country.
In two years of the pandemic, they’ve been an even more critical element of the country’s vaccination drive. Case in point — Asha workers in Nuh rallied for months to dispel residents’ fears about taking the vaccine in Nuh last year. Yet, they draw meager salaries — a fixed component of Rs 4,000 and incentives that vary from Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000, including a “Covid bonus” announced by the state government in 2020. Their average monthly salary comes to around Rs 10,000.
It should be raised to Rs 24,000, they said. “Or at least a fixed salary of Rs 15,000 and other incentives adding up to the total monthly salary of Rs 20,000. There are many women, like a colleague in Sonipat who is separated from her husband and is raising two daughters independently… We don’t mind working but at least pay us enough so that we can survive,” said Meera Devi, district head of the Asha Workers’ Union in Haryana.
In December last year, months after the devastating second wave of Covid infection had receded, thousands of Asha workers encircled the residence of state health minister Anil Vij in Ambala to press for their demands. They wanted the monthly Covid-19 incentive of Rs 1,000, announced by the central government in 2020, be extended after it was discontinued in September last year.
The same month, they also submitted a memorandum addressed to the Prime Minister, alleging “inhumane” working hours, being given tasks they had no knowledge of, and non-payment of salaries and incentives.
Their three month-demonstration, which began in December 2021, was scuttled after the state invoked the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) in February this year. The law makes it mandatory for people employed for essential services to join duty.
“The Centre had promised us a Rs 1,000 bonus for Covid work. That was not timely paid. And the state government had to pay Rs 500 additional bonus since we worked overtime during Covid. The Haryana government did not pay that as well,” said Surekha, general secretary of the union.
She corroborated Bala’s version of events last December. “When we went to press for our demands, we were beaten up, our numbers were traced and some of us were put under house arrest. When they have to pay us, they say we aren’t regular employees and only volunteers, but when they have to choke our voices, they invoke ESMA,” she said.
When asked, the state health department said Haryana was giving among the highest incentives to Asha workers in India. “The government is disbursing Rs 154 crore annually for additional honorarium. It also provides Rs 3 lakh as life insurance to Asha workers,” said a department official.
“The CM has also announced that Asha workers will be covered under the central government’s Ayushman Bharat scheme. In addition to this, we were the first state to provide Android-based smartphones to help them manage their work and raise monthly claims using the Asha Pay app. We will review their demands in light of the inflation and see what more can be done to support them,” added a senior official of NHM-Haryana.
Credit Source – https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/gurgaon/pay-us-adequately-thats-the-biggest-award-asha-workers/articleshow/91752389.cms



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