ASHA workers in the State seek hike in salaries to ₹16,000 from 10,000, maternity and medical leaves, and the reduction of workload.
| Photo Credit: File Photo

Being treated on par with government employees seems to be a pipe dream for Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) in the State, as, according to their union leaders, no steps have been taken so far to fulfil the promises made to them by the Andhra Pradesh government.

The government was put in a spot when Statewide protests by ASHAs, municipal workers, and Anganwadi workers towards the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024 rocked the State.

In February, the State government invited a few trade union leaders representing ASHAs for talks concerning their demands that included a hike in their present salaries from ₹10,000 to ₹16,000, maternity and medical leaves, bringing down the workload, among others.

The government agreed to some of their demands, including maternity and medical leave, but no Government Order has been issued to date.

“While the government issued GOs regarding most of the municipal workers’ demands immediately, such as hike in honorarium, the demands of ASHAs are yet to be met. Some non-financial demands, like maternity and medical leaves, could have been met immediately, before the Model Code of Conduct came into force,” says B. Kantha Rao, belonging to a workers’ union affiliated to Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

The delay has only exasperated ASHAs, for whom getting their voices heard has always been a relentless struggle. During former Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu’s rule, they used to get a fixed pay of ₹3,000 and incentives up to ₹5,600 depending on the number of people they were serving. During his padayatra in 2019, Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy promised ASHAs to increase their fixed honorarium from ₹3,000 to ₹10,000. However, there were no incentives.

In the TDP regime, most ASHAs were getting around ₹8,000 or more. So, in effect, the increase during the YSRCP rule was only around ₹2,000, explains Chitra (name changed), an ASHA from Chittoor district, on the condition of anonymity for fear of “retribution” from her higher-ups in the form of denied leave applications.

“Not a speech of the Chief Minister is complete without a reference to ‘akka-chellallu’ (sisters). But, why has he not heard our cries when all that we were asking for were maternity and medical leaves,” says Chitra.

Many of the around 45,000 ASHAs in the State are widows. “For them, it is even more difficult to run their households with a meagre income. We are being told the government lacks funds to pay more. Ex gratia to the kin of ASHAs who died in the line of duty during the pandemic is also yet to be paid,” All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) leader L. Santhi says.

The years of struggle with no quick resolution in sight has left them disillusioned with the successive governments. “We do not want any tall promises this time from anyone. Most of us (those part of the labour wings of the Left parties) will vote for the Congress-Left parties alliance,” say Ms. Chitra and all the five ASHAs that The Hindu spoke to.

The ASHAs have pointed out how they have been burdened with election duties for the last two times. Many are also planning to switch jobs because they feel they are not respected and acknowledged for the work they do.

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