Scheme Workers Storm Streets Across the Country Demanding Their Rights
- by Shashi Yadav, Saroj Chaubey, Atul Dighe, Geeta Mandal, Vijay Vidrohi and Mahendra Parida
The past few months have witnessed vibrant struggles of scheme workers throughout the country. While this section of workers effectively run primary health and child care and other welfare schemes for the government, they have been denied of their basic rights of workers. The scheme workers constitute a significant section of the work force in India and their strength being around 1 crore. It can be comfortably said that more than 95% of the scheme workers are women. Thus, denial of working class rights for scheme workers is a blatant show of discrimation against women workforce by the present government.
The scheme workers in the country have been organising inspiring struggles for their rights and dignity for last several years. They have achieved several important victories in the course of their struggle.
While the BJP uses all public funded welfare schemes and renames them for the propaganda of their own party, the labour of the scheme workers remain criminally unpaid for.
Scheme workers organised under the banner of AICCTU played a major role in organising these protests. Here is a report of the protest of scheme workers from different states.
Vibrant Demonstration of ASHA Workers of Bihar in Patna
The ASHA workers of Bihar have been betrayed for long by both the central and state governments. The foot soldiers of primary health services in the country, the ASHA workers, found no mention in the central government’s Budget, 2023. On the other hand, Tejaswi Yadav, who had promised justice for ASHA workers during the last assembly elections, is the Deputy Chief Minsiter as well as the Health Minister of Bihar right now. Yet, the demands of ASHA workers for dignified wages, social security and recognition of their rights are still ignored.
The ASHA workers of Bihar are thus legitimately angry with the ruling dispensation. They expressed their frustration with the present government on 21st March, 2023 when thousands of ASHA workers marched on the streets of Patna holding banners of their demands. The march reverberated with slogans like, “We want monthly salary, not allowance”, “We want our legal rights as workers” “One thousand means nothing, wages no less than 21 thousands per month”, “Declare ASHA and Facilitators as health workers”, “Ensure pension for scheme workers”, “Guarantee retirement benefit of atleast 10 lakh rupees” and “Immediately disburse dues of Pandemic Work”. The march started from Gardanibag area of Patna under the banner of Bihar Rajya ASHA Karyakarta Sangh that is affiliated to AICCTU and Karmachari Mahasangh (Gope). Leaders of ASHA workers union such as Shashi Yadav, Vidyapati Pandey, Kavita Kumari, Sunaina, Shabnam and Sabya Pandey led the protest march of ASHA workers. Other leaders of the Karmachari Mahasangh (Gope) like Rambali Prasad, Premchand Sinha, leader of Mid Day Meal workers movement Saroj Chaubey and AICCTU leader Ranvijay Kumar also addressed the protest gathering of the ASHA workers. CPIML members of the Legislative Assembly of Bihar, Mahboob Alam, Satyadev Ram and Mahanand Singh spoke in solidarity with the demands of ASHA workers. They said that the demands of ASHA workers are legitimate and the government must heed to their demands. The CPIML MLAs not only have regularly voiced their support for the demands of ASHA workers inside the Bihar assembly, but also intervened demanding the office of the Chief Minister and the Bihar government to fulfil the demands of ASHA workers. They said that the ASHAs are the backbone of the National Health Mission. But the Modi government does not bother to ensure the rights of workers to these frontline workers; rather it is busy in facilitating scams for the likes of Adani.
Mid Day Meal Workers of Bihar Hold United Demonstration in front of Bihar Assembly
Thousands of Mid Day Meal (MDM) workers of Bihar demonstrated in front of the Bihar Assembly on 3rd April demanding a monthly salary of at least Rs 21 thousands and other rights of a worker. Mid Day Meal scheme holds important significance in providing basic nutrition to school going children in the country. Those who run this scheme in Bihar are forced to survive on a meagre honorarium of Rs 1650 per month. These workers are forced to work in undignified work conditions because the government refuses to acknowledge or recognise them as workers with accompanied legal rights. Without any security of jobs, these workers are forced to work under a constant threat of retrenchment.
While addressing the protest demonstration, Saroj Chaubey, the General Secretary of the Bihar Rasoiya Mahasangh (affilifated to AICCTU) said that the Modi led central government has blatantly betrayed the Mid Day Meal workers of the country. The central government has not provided any fund allocation to increase the honorarium of the MDM workers. She asked how these workers are supposed to run their families with such a pittance despite working whole time. She added that the Modi government has changed the name of MDM scheme to Pradhan Mantri Poshan Yojana to claim credits for the already existing nutritional scheme for school going children. In fact, by renaming the already existing scheme, the Modi government has reduced the time span of operation of the scheme to five years, whereas this scheme was originally envisioned as a permanent scheme for school going children in the country. This has generated a huge sense of insecurity of jobs among the existing workers. Saroj Chaubey brought out the fact that neither have the MDM workers been paid the pandemic allowance nor have the families of deceased workers (who died on duty due to Corona) been paid any compensation.
Meena Tiwari, the General Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) addressed the protesting workers and said that the government is clearly trying to escape its responsibilities of ensuring the due rights for millions of women workers in the country by outsourcing the MDM scheme to NGOs and other agencies.
The Union that held the joint demonstration of the MDM workers submitted their 16 point charter of demands to the Bihar state government. The main demands of the protesters included recognition of MDM workers as government employees, gurantee of at least Rs 21 thousands per month as wages, guarantee of pension, ESI, PF, provision of uniform of at least four cotton sarees in a year, withdrawal of outsourcing of MDM scheme and other rights.
The Bold Assertion of ASHA Workers Challenging the Bulldozer Raj of Yogi Adityanath in UP
The state of Uttar Pradesh is becoming increasingly infamous for the disastrous Bulldozer Raj of Yogi Adityanath. All voices of protest in UP is being dealt with arrests and crackdown by the government on the one hand and with violence and killings by the communal fascist forces. And this fascist model of governance is being projected as the ideal model for the country by the BJP led central government. But the governance by instilling fear and crackdown is unable to dampen the spirit of ASHA workers of Uttar Pradesh. They have been consistently raising their voice for their rights under the banner of Uttar Pradesh ASHA Workers Union (affiliated to AICCTU).
Thousands of ASHA workers held demonstrations at different dispensaries, health centres, block development offices and district headquarters. ASHA workers from forty six districts of the state participated in these protests.
The Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mr Yogi Adityanath himself promised a monthly honorarium of Rs 6700 along with incentives for extra work for ASHAs and Rs 11,000 as monthly honorarium for facilitators along with incentive for extra work. However, the reality is that not only has their honorarium not been increased, but also their incentives due for the extra work are pending for months together. The UP government had given low quality mobile phones to ASHAs as ‘gifts’ for the hard work of taking care of primary health care in the state. In fact, ASHA workers are being forced to feed data and fill up form for Ayushman Card with these low quality mobiles without proper network in rural areas of Uttar Pradesh. The ‘gift’ has turned out to an extra burden on the low paid, overworked ASHA workers. The ASHA workers regularly face sexual harassment and sexist comments in their work places. But till now, the government has taken no step to ensure any redressal mechanism. The Uttar Pradesh ASHA Workers Union has time and again intimated the government about the massive scam of Rs 1.50 Lakh Crores in the disbursement due to ASHA workers between 2019 and 2022. Till now, no enquiry has been set up to look into the day robbery of hard earned money of ASHAs.
The ASHA workers of Uttar Pradesh are undeterred by the betrayal of the government. They have been rightly pointing out that ASHAs are not volunteers but are de-facto regular workers as recognised by the 45th and 46th Indian Labour Conferences. They are demanding their legitimate rights such as dignified monthly wages of not less than Rs 21,000, ESI, PF and Pension. In case of any delay in extending such wages, they are also demanding, at least, a monthly allowance of no less than Rs 21,000 per month till their services and wages are regularised.
It is the ASHA workers of Uttar Pradesh who have developed an exemplary model of unity and assertion of women workers exposing the false claims of women empowerment by the ruling dispensation.
Massive Protest of Mid Day Meal Workers of Jharkhand in front of the Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha:
On 15th March 2023, the Mid Day Meal workers of Jharkhand held massive demonstration in front of the Jharkhand assembly demanding implementation of the agreement between Jharkhand Rajya Vidyalaya Rasoiya Sangh (affiliated to AICCTU) and the Minister of Education for Jharkhand. The government has not yet fulfilled the agreement made with the union on 14th December, 2022 in the name of lack of budget allocation for the scheme. The demonstration was held during the budget session of Jharkhand assembly demanding budgetary allocation for fulfilling the agreement made by the government. The main demands raised by the protesters are -
- The Mid Day Meal workers must be paid a honorarium of at least Rs 7,500 per month from April, 2023. The monthly honorarium must be subsequently increased to Rs 21,000 per month.
- The Mid Day Meal workers services shall be regularised and they must be recognised as government employees.
- All rights of workers including maternity leave must be granted to the Mid Day Meal workers.
- Dignified service conditions for Mid Day Meal workers must be determined and implemented.
- The Mid Day Meal workers must be paid for all twelve months instead of only 10 months in a year.
- Pending dues for five years must be disbursed immediately.
- Roll back the outsourcing of Mid Day Meal scheme to NGOs that might cause massive retrenchment of the existing Mid Day Meal workers.
Anganwadi Workers of Maharashtra Strike Back
Showing an exemplary unity of the working class, around 2 lakh anganwadi workers of Maharshtra held strike and a massive demonstration at Azad Maidan demanding increase in the payment and other rights as workers. The Anganwadi workers united under the banner of Maharshtra Rajya Anganwadi Kriti (Sanyukt) Samiti started their strike from 20th February onwards. AICCTU was a major constituent of the joint platform of struggle along with other left, socialist and independent trade unions. The strike continued for eight days and culminated in a massive demonstration at Azad Maidan in Mumbai. The major demands of the movement was to increase the payment to Anganwadi workers, guarantee of pension at the rate of fifty percent of payment, disbursal of gratuity according to the verdict of the Supreme Court and recognition of Anganwadi workers as government employees.
The massive protest of Anganwadi workers forced the government to invite representatives from the joint platform for a dialogue with the Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister and Minister of Women and Child Development. After several rounds of talks, the government agreed to increase the payment by Rs 1700 per month for Anganwadi workers and by Rs 1100 per month for facilitators. The increase in payment has already been implemented. Monthly allowance is raised to Rs 10,410 per month for Anganwadi workers, Rs 5841 for facilitators and Rs 7484 for mini Anganwadi workers. The government has also agreed, in principle, to ensure pension for the workers.
The strike and protest of the workers were called off on 28th February after negotiation with the government. But the unions are determined to continue the struggle till all rights are achieved along with dignified wages for workers.
Joint Demonstration of MDM workers before Odisha Assembly:
On 13th March 2023, thousands of Mid Day Meal (MDM) workers held demonstration before the Odisha assembly. The demonstration was organized by five central trade unions, namely AICCTU, CITU, HMS, AITUC and AIUTUC.
The MDM workers, who come from the most downtrodden families and from villages, face the worst form of exploitation. Around 1,60,000 MDM workers are engaged in Odisha for last twenty years. When the MDM scheme started, they were receiving a honorarium as low as just Rs. 100 per month. But due to sustained movement on various occasions, the MDM workers are now getting Rs 1400 per month today. Even this amount is far less than the mandated minimum wages in the state.
As we all know, the Modi government has formualted a policy of closure of schools in the name of merger. Odisha is one of those states that are mostly affected due to the closure of government schools. More than 14,379 schools are closed and thousands of MDM workers are thrown out of their job, thus denying their life and livelihood. The government has not taken any steps to ensure their right to work and against the illegal massive retrenchment. At the same time, the state government is outsourcing MDM scheme to private agencies and SHG (Self-help groups) causing further threat of retrenchment to the existing MDM workers. In addition, the Odisha government has not paid the increased honorarium to MDM workers for the last two years in spite of several struggles and High Court orders.
A memorandum with 16-point charter of demands was submitted to the Education Minister during the protest. The delegation comprised of Mahendra parida from AICCTU, Bishnu Mohanty from CITU, Debasis Ghosh from AITUC, Sanjukta Mahal from HMS and Jayasen Meher from AIUTUC. The demonstration was withdrawn only after the minister promised payment of arrears of 28 months, enhancement of wages from Rs 1,400 and provision of ESI and PF facilities.
The movement of the MDM workers will continue with the demand for wages of Rs 26,000 per month, recognition as government employees, withdrawal of labour codes and halting the school closure drive.