The stalemate between the protesting Asha workers and the Haryana government continued even on Friday, when the strike entered the 23rd day. While the Asha workers are demanding a government employee status and a monthly salary of Rs 26,000, state Health Minister Anil Vij is not ready to budge and said they are already being paid the highest allowance in the country.
Asha workers earn on an incentive basis and get paid for immunisation and other related health services. On an average, an Asha worker in Haryana earns between Rs 7,000 and Rs 9,000 every month.
The protesting Asha workers claimed that their counterparts in Puducherry, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and West Bengal get higher and fixed salaries.
Notably, the state has 20,350 Asha workers for the nearly 7,000 villages, colonies and urban areas. The Asha workers’ union claims that nearly 20,000 of them are on a strike since August 8 this year while the government officers say the number is little above 16,000.
An Asha (accredited social health activist) worker is engaged under the National Health Mission to play a key role in checking maternal and newborn deaths by encouraging people for timely immunisations and institutional deliveries.
The protesting Asha workers say they continued their services even during the Covid-19, a claim corroborated by health department officials who also accepted that they were the bridge between the people and the health officials.
The World Health Organisation has also honoured Asha workers, the country’s frontline workers, with the Global Health Leaders Award-2022 for their services during the pandemic.
However, the union’s Haryana president Sunita said, there is no increase in the allowance of Asha workers in the state for the past five years “while their work has increased three times”. “The prices of essential commodities have also doubled in the last five years,” she added.
To press for their demands, the Asha workers had planned a march to the Haryana Assembly on August 28 when the Monsoon session was underway. However, the authorities did not allow the protest march and termed it “unauthorised” on the ground that the union had not sought prior permission for the same.
The union leaders alleged that hundreds of Asha workers were detained in different parts of the state during the protest march. “They were kept in inhuman conditions without being provided basic facilities like drinking water and toilets. This was a gross violation of human rights and the authorities must act against the police,” said Surekha, general secretary of Asha Workers Union.
Surekha added, “The newly added task of uploading data on out mobile phones has proved to be the toughest task for us as the phones keep hanging. On top of that, no incentive is given for this task.”
One Asha worker is engaged for a population of 1,000, she said. “Each house is required to be visited by Asha workers at least three times in a month to provide information to health officials about pregnant women or serious patients,” she said.
During the Monsoon session of the Assembly, a few Congress MLAs raised the issue of Asha workers’ ongoing strike. On his part, Vij said Asha workers in Haryana get the highest allowance in the country.
The minister told The Indian Express that a delegation of Asha workers met him on Wednesday and pointed out some other demands too. “I have assured them to listen to these demands too and they will be invited to my office again,” Vij said.
On the issue of increased workload, the minister said that their job is incentive based and they are paid for contributions like immunisations. A National Health Mission (NHM) officer said it were the efforts by Vij which ensured several additional facilities to Asha workers.
According to officials, the Asha workers have contacts in each house in the villages and colonies of urban areas as they start visiting families soon after any marriage takes place.
They start contacting newly-married couples, give them suggestions about family planning and guide them about immunisations after and before delivery. They also conduct health surveys apart from maintaining registers for some diseases.
Currently, Class 12 is the minimum educational qualification for an Asha worker. They get Rs 4,000 as fixed allowance apart from incentives for special tasks like Rs 150 for an immunisation and Rs 300 for each delivery conducted at a government hospital after persuading a couple for the same.
According to Surekha, Puducherry gives Rs 10,000 as a fixed allowance to an Asha worker while this is Rs 6,000 for Asha workers in Madhya Pradesh, Rs 4,500 in West Bengal and Rs 6,000 in Kerala — with the state government contributing Rs 4,000 and the rest, Rs 2,000, is given by village panchayats. She also claimed that their counterparts in these states also get service-based incentives.
The NHM officers claim that the average monthly remuneration for Asha workers in Haryana was Rs 9,600 last year as they get Rs 2,000 every month for fixed activities too. “A few Asha workers are even earning Rs 20,000 monthly by putting in more efforts for health services,” said an official of the NHM.
Meanwhile, the union has also sought a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for an Asha worker, Parul, from Yamunanagar district who died on August 29. The union said Parul had fallen ill on August 28 when she and other Asha workers were going to Chandigarh to participate in the protest but was stopped by the police.
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