73 Days and Counting, ASHA Workers Continue Their Strike For More Pay In Haryana
The frontline health workers have called for a 24-hour strike outside district offices and homes of political leaders
Update: The Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar met with the protesting ASHA workers and announced a hike of honorariums by Rs. 2100. ASHA workers in the state will now receive Rs 6100 per month and a sum of Rs 2 lakhs after retirement. Their other demands are still unmet.
Over the last 24 hours, over 17000 ASHA workers (Accredited Social Health Activists) in Haryana have been protesting outside the state’s district secretariats and the residences of the MLAs of the ruling coalition parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Jannayak Janata Party’s (JJP). The call for a day-long strike between October 18 and 19 across Haryana’s 22 districts was given last Tuesday by the ASHA Workers Union.
Demanding the status of government employees, a minimum monthly salary of Rs 26,000 and social security benefits, over 20,000 ASHA workers have been on strike in Haryana for the last 73 days. They are also demanding that the retirement age be raised from the current 60 years to 65 years.
The frontline workers in the state have written several times to senior officials in the state health department highlighting their demands and problems. They allege that government officials have only promised to fulfil their demands, and done nothing more. Haryana has 20,115 ASHA workers for its nearly 7000 villages, according to government data.
ASHAs are a cadre designated as volunteers of over a million women health workers engaged under the National Health Mission, serving as the crucial interface between India’s community and public health delivery. They provide maternal and child health care, immunisation and a host of other services and also supply the government with critical on-ground health data.
ASHA workers had played a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic, as BehanBox has reported earlier. For several years, they have been demanding that they be included in the cadre of permanent government healthcare staff with a minimum wage of Rs 18,000 as recommended by the Indian Labour Conference.
In Haryana, ASHAs began to be paid a fixed salary of Rs 4000 only in 2018, following a six-month long protest. But in the five years since, the workload of ASHA workers has increased exponentially as explained later, while their remuneration has stayed fixed, says Sunita, the general secretary of Haryana’s ASHA Workers Union.
Growing Workload, Same Remuneration
Saravjeet Kaur has been sitting on a dharna with more than 500 colleagues outside the Ambala residence of Haryana BJP MLA, Aseem Goel. “We won’t leave here without him fulfilling our demands,” says Saravjeet.
“We have been protesting for more than two months now and in these months, a lot of us have fallen sick. But we are undeterred. Our families too are supportive of our andolan (agitation) and say that jeetke aana (return victorious),” says Saravjeet.
ASHA workers in most states, except Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Haryana, West Bengal and Sikkim, do not get a fixed honorarium. As we said earlier, Haryana’s ASHA workers began to be paid a fixed salary of Rs 4000 only in 2018 after protesting. They are also entitled to an incentive of Rs 2000 a month from the Centre upon completing eight tasks: organising Village Health and Nutrition Days, convening a monthly Village Health, Sanitation and Nutrition Committee, listing and updating household data every six months, maintaining a record of births and deaths, preparing child immunisation lists every month and updating a list of newly married couples.
“ASHA workers have to manage a population of 1000 families and ensure that pregnant women in these families are provided proper care, and also follow up on them. But there are a host of other tasks that ASHAs have to do, like holding regular surveys for various illnesses and diseases, holding anaemia camps, doing election duty, health checks for school children, preparing cards for those covered by the AYUSHMAN Bharat scheme. For none of this are they paid any extra money,” says Sunita. The workers have made a list of 32 tasks that they do besides their usual duties which they have sent to government officials along with their demand letter.
Informal Work and Healthcare Concerns
Despite this rise in workload and the centrality of their role in the public health mission, ASHA workers are still seen as volunteer workers. Consequently they have no access to social security benefits like provident fund, gratuity, insurance benefits, or even retirement benefits. Most ASHA workers have to work for 12-13 hours a day, says Sunita.
The 46th session of the Indian Labour Conference held in 2015 recommended that all scheme workers should be recognised as ‘workers’ and not as ‘volunteers’ or ‘honorary workers’, paid minimum wages and get all statutory benefits like pension, gratuity, dearness allowance, earned leave, medical leave, and maternity benefits, including child care leave and so on. ASHA workers do not get maternity benefits.
Despite the strike, ASHA workers are ensuring that the pregnant women under their care are being monitored, says Sunita. “The state of pregnant women in Haryana is not the best, partly due to poor government infrastructure as well as the lack of nutrition for pregnant women. Despite our protest and though we are forgoing our honorarium, we are still attending to pregnant women in need,” says Sunita.
According to the NFHS-5 data from, approximately 60% of pregnant women in the age group of 15-49 years are anaemic in rural Haryana. Among children aged 6-59 months, the figure is 71%.
In Jhajjar district, around 300 ASHA workers are assembled on the road outside the office of the BJP state head OP Dhankar. The area, they say, is heavily barricaded and teeming with the Haryana state police.
ASHA workers from villages as far away as 30-50 km have joined the protest. “For the past few months, protesting is all we are doing. Even in my sleep, I mumble ‘Inquilab Zindabad’,” says Anita Devi, an ASHA worker from Jhajjar.
The protesting workers say they have collectivised in never-before numbers this time. “We have been part of the andolan since 2018, so this is not new for us. All we want is to be paid minimum wage, so that we can run our households. How can a family survive on Rs 4000 in these times? Just an LPG cylinder costs Rs 1200-1300,” says Anita Devi.
The union has been backed by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) since 2009. The effort is to also mobilise the general public through door-to-door campaigns, says Sunita. “We tell people about the state of public healthcare and how ASHA work is being exploited. They all sympathise and often join these protests,” she says.
In 2021, the Haryana government had invoked the Haryana Essential Services Maintenance Act against striking ASHA workers. Under the act, an offence punishable by a jail term extendable upto six months or a fine of up to Rs 200 or both. There were protest demonstrations later against the arrests and the workers had been released.
This time, ASHA workers say they are not fazed by the idea of police action. “For the essential services act to hold, the government needs to recognise us as workers and not volunteers. Humein toh mazdoor heen nahi mante (they don’t consider us as workers). We will only emerge stronger after this, come what may,” says Devi.
With the protest escalating, the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has promised to meet the protesting ASHA workers this evening in Chandigarh, says Sunita, general secretary of Haryana ASHA Workers Union.
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