The Union and State Governments Must Ensure Fixed Salaries, Timely Payments, Protective Equipment Immediately

May 24, 2021: National Alliance of People’s Movements stands in solidarity with the nation-wide strike observed by ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers today, to ensure that their long-ignored demands are heard, including demands for recognition as workers and for fixed salary. We refuse to see as a ‘sacrifice’ the central role played by the overworked and underpaid grassroots workforce. We demand that the state heed their demands as workers, immediately.

Around 10 lakh ASHAs across India form the backbone of the Indian healthcare system. Comprising predominantly women from oppressed and marginalised communities, the ASHAs cater to the health needs of marginalised sections of society. In a country with highly fractured and discriminatory healthcare infrastructure, ASHAs have been performing the role of first-respondents and healthcare awareness advocates at community level, as ‘volunteers’, with no recognition of their rights as workers.

The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has overburdened ASHA workers, forcing them to become the primary link between communities and the state, providing the state with necessary information to formulate their policies and communicating important guidelines and updates back to the communities. They worked on the ground for long hours, often without adequate protective equipment and often risking exposure to Covid 19 for them and their families. Many ASHAs across states have not been paid their remuneration for months. They continue to work in spite of lack of job security and health safety. 

The union and the state governments have been trying to appease the workers with empty laudations and piecemeal incentives. Even the life insurance scheme — aimed to compensate the families for the workers’ lives — provided for health workers has been difficult to access. Meagre monthly incentives and one-time allowances are no substitute for the rightful demands of these exploited workers. Moreover, ASHA workers say that earlier demands for social security benefits have been met with threats. 

NAPM stands in solidarity with the ASHAs and all the other ‘ancillary’ workers in their fight for recognition and justice. We call upon the Govt. of India and state governments to immediately end the exploitation and undervaluation of ASHAs’ labour and ensure the effective implementation of their demands for fixed salary, timely payment, protective/ safety equipment and recognition as workers, including all social security benefits. 

NAPM India