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Bihar: 32-Day ASHA Workers’ Strike Ends After Talks With Health Minister

Tejashwi Yadav agreed to raise honorarium to Rs 2,500/month and send ‘government employee status’ demand recommendation to Centre, say union leaders.
Tejashwi Yadav

New Delhi: About one lakh ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) and ASHA facilitators, who had been on strike since July 12, that is more than a month, announced an end to their indefinite strike on Sunday after reaching an agreement during talks with health minister Tejashwi Yadav on their nine-point demand charter. The demands include changing the word Paritoshik (reward) to Maasik Maandeya (monthly honorarium), increasingly monthly honorarium from Rs 1,000 per month to Rs 10,000 per month, clearing all dues before and after the implementation of the Ashwin portal, etc.  

The agreement was reached after the first two rounds of talks with the executive director (ED) of the state health committee remained inconclusive. However, on the government’s order, on August 11, talks were successfully concluded with Sanjay Kumar Singh along with ED and leaders of ASHA workers’ joint front, such as Shashi Yadav, head of Bihar Rajya ASHA Karyakarta Sangh (Gop-Group AICCTU), Rambali Prasad, chairperson, Mahasangh (Gop-Group), Ranvijay Kumar, state secretary AICCTU, Vishwanath Singh, assistant general secretary, Sudha Suman, general secretary, and the representatives of ASHA and ASHA Facilitators Union (CITU).

Asha workers

The final round of talks of the protesting leaders with Bihar Deputy Chief Minister-cum-Health Minister Tejashwi Yadav were held on Sunday, and once an agreement was reached on the nine-point demands, the end of the strike was announced by the ASHA Samyukta Sangharsh Manch.

Recall that during the previous strike, then BJP Health Minister Mangal Pandey had promised ASHA workers a monthly honorarium and had then “slyly” changed the word ‘honorarium’ to ‘reward’. Sunday’s meeting with Tejashwi reverted to the word “monthly honorarium”.

The ASHA Samyukta Sangharsh Manch believes that changing “reward” to “honorarium” is a big win for lakhs of ASHA and facilitators’ historic strike.

Bihar Rajya Asha Karyakarta Sangh (Gop-group AICCTU) head Shashi Yadav said now ASHA and ASHA facilitators have also become the state government’s honorarium workers. Being called honorarium workers is a matter of pride for one lakh ASHAs as so far they were regarded as lower than honorarium workers. 

Sudha Suman, general secretary of ASHA Evam ASHA Facilitator Sangh (CITU), told Newsclick over phone that per the talks, the government would consider providing the ASHAs retirement benefits and extending their retirement age from 60 to 65 years. 

Vishwanath Singh, joint general secretary, however, said that the government has not made changes to the monthly honorarium as per the expectations of the ASHAs. An agreement has been reached to increase the current monthly payout of Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,500 as monthly honorarium. These payments will be paid from September 2023.

Rambali Prasad, head of the Mahasangh, and Bihar Rajya ASHA Karyakarta Sangh’s (Gop-group AICCTU) chief patron, along with AICCTU state secretary Ranvijay Kumar, said after this victory, the next turn is of the (Narendra) Modi’s government in Delhi. Leaders said that among the nine-point demand charter, there is another important demand from the Modi government at the Centre --to give ASHA workers the status of government employees and to increase their incentive amounts by at least 300%. In Sunday’s talks, the Bihar Health Minister agreed to send a proposal and a recommendation letter to the Modi government. 

The leaders said the cost of each work (incentive) for ASHAs managed under National Health Mission was decided as early as 2005, even before their work had begun. Following this, the incentive amount hasn’t been re-evaluated seriously for over 17 years, including nine years of the Modi government. Consequently, 10 lakh women workers across India are compelled to work on rates decided as early as 2005.

The union leaders said the Bihar government had also assured of positive decisions regarding paying all dues, increasing the honorarium amount for uniform, including petticoat, blouse and woollen coats, taking back the cases filed during the strike along with other issues raised.

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