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Formalise conditions, wages of ASHA and Anganwadi workers: House panel on labour

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NEW DELHI: The parliamentary standing committee on labour has said that the work of ASHA and Anganwadi workers must be formalised, their wages made specific and they should not be treated as honorary workers. Hundreds of ASHA workers have been on the frontline of Covid-19 related screening and contact tracing and have held protests in several states recently about underpayment and lack of medical protection.

The labour committee led by BJD MP Bhartruhari Mahtab also recommended expanding definition of social security for workers to cover nine components suggested by the International Labour Organisation, including unemployment, maternity, old-age benefits and medical care and to expand the definition of employees to include Anganwadi and ASHA workers. It also said unorganised workers must include gig, freelance, agricultural and platform workers and the definition of gig worker be made specific to avoid misinterpretation.

A platform of workers under schemes such as Anganwadi, ASHA and national health mission had given a call for a two-day nationwide strike demanding safety, insurance, risk allowance and fixed wages. ASHA workers in Bihar, Karnataka and Maharashtra have been protesting for the last few days citing delayed payment, pending dues of promised incentives, despite undertaking the risk of going to Covid-19 hotspots.

People in ASHA are paid incentives for health activity such as immunisation, taking pregnant women to hospitals, routine checks of people. The workers are mostly women and are attached to local government-run dispensaries, with every worker catering from 40 to 400 households.

Experts on labour have welcomed the House panel recommendations. XLRI professor KR Shyam Sundar said, “the government does not consider people employed in ASHA and Anganwadis as workers or employees in the formal sense, despite the fact that the Indian Labour Conference had unanimously recommended that they should be recognised as contractual workers or government employees and regularised. They are scheme-based workers but perform enough work to be recognised as ‘workers.”

“The government has said that the number of people employed in work is huge and it will impose a fiscal burden on them if they are all recognised as workers… It also says these people work only for four to five hours which is less than part-time workers…But that is only in theory as in reality, they work for much more time because they have to keep elaborate records of the families and their own work. Their work is also often not very close to houses so they also travel. Honorarium is a budgetary provision that was fixed at Rs 3,500 a month which is also often not paid on time, he said. Even during Covid-19, many of them succumbed to the virus and had to fight for basic things like PPE, Sundar said. “Some state governments such as Maharashtra and Odisha have agreed to give pensions but they come under the Centre so it has to do it. They should come under health insurance and all social security benefits should be extended to them.”

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