One million female frontline COVID workers in India earn just $40 a month. Now they are planning an attack

Dressed in pink, the women have been going door-to-door for months, persuading people to get vaccinated for Covid-19 in some of India’s remote corners, hinterlands and crowded urban slums. , often risking their personal safety.

For their troubles, they earn about $40 a month, a salary barely enough to cover their lives. More than a million of these frontline health workers across the country – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s key goal in spreading the disease to the entire nation’s population and revitalizing the $2.6 trillion economy – is about to be reached. be successful.

Is called Recognized Social and Health Activists, or “Asha” from the Hindi word for hope, these women are teaming up with well-established trade unions to step up their fight against what they call chronic bureaucratic indifference towards them. with their complaints about poor pay and bad working conditions.
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Nine Asha workers interviewed by Bloomberg News across India said authorities had previously assured them better wages, personal protective equipment and safe working conditions had failed to keep their promises. even though stopped working for two days last year. Even worse, some say they haven’t been paid for months.

Read more: How has the COVID crisis in India become a disaster?

Secretary-General Amarjeet Kaur said the All India Trade Union Congress is planning protests in New Delhi when the country’s parliament is in session until December 23. “We are talking to other unions and are planning a nationwide strike in December for all workers under this scheme,” said AR Sindhu, national secretary of the Center. Associated with Communist India said.

The threat of another walkout by workers comes at a critical time as India is still grappling with its vaccination goals. Only 32 percent of India’s 1.4 billion people have been vaccinated, according to vaccine-tracking company Bloomberg on Wednesday, while Modi has an ambitious goal of getting all adults to be vaccinated. fully vaccinated by the end of this year. An attack can also deal a blow like omicron variant of the coronavirus poses a new risk to recovery efforts globally.

India’s COVID workers are the bridge to the community

Asha workers are very important for the Covid-19 vaccination at home for Modi campaign launched in November. They have detailed knowledge of their neighborhood, and they are more likely to convince people to come shoot. They act as a bridge between the health authority and the local community.

Create in 2005, as a one-stop organization to help provide more than 55 healthcare services to people, especially women and children, in remote areas, the Asha program has been tool for eradicating polio in developing countries. Now that the workers have the added burden of Covid-19, they all have to pay for a small activity-based honors fund that averages around 3,000 rupees ($40) a month for most of them. With luck, some can earn double that amount.

But they want the government to set a minimum wage for them, such as farmworkers or cleaners, some of whom can earn up to $260 a month.

India's ASHA workers conduct door-to-door virus survey
© 2020 Bloomberg Finance LP Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers from India’s National Rural Health Mission wearing pink gowns and protective masks talk to a resident, left , as they conducted a door-to-door survey of the coronavirus in New Delhi, India, on July 2, 2020.

“It’s time to pay them the minimum wage because now they’ve become so important to the system,” he said. T. Sundararaman, Global Coordinator for the People’s Health Movement based in New Delhi. “When they were created, we talked about 12 hours a week. Now, the full burden of primary care has shifted to them and they are working more than regular staff. ”

The concerns being raised by Asha workers are not new. Besides the issue of wages, two years after the pandemic, most of them continue to work without gloves, masks or disinfectants. People who need to go away may not be able to access a safe place to stay overnight, or shelter when the temperature rises or falls.

Better conditions for India’s COVID workers

Annoyed by being ignored, women in pink are increasingly causing a stir, demanding minimum wages and timeliness as well as better means of working. They joined other workers’ unions in September for a day-long strike, and the protests have gathered momentum ever since.

On November 10, Asha workers in Kolhapur, a town about 230 miles south of Mumbai, stop Vaccination work is not paid. In the north of the state PunjabAccording to Balbir Kaur, 51, the union head in Ludhiana district, where local elections are likely to take place early next year, they have shied away from all services that ban urgent care such as childbirth. from 11/25.

“Since the council polls are approaching and they are looking for votes, maybe now they will listen to us,” Kaur said, adding that she had not been paid for months. A spokesperson for the state government did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Read more: India’s healthcare workers say the government has failed

As a result of the protests in the pockets of the country, some experts have begun to notice the rate of vaccination is slowing down. Vivekanand Jha, Managing Director of India at George Institute for Global Health, said ignoring their concerns could undermine the fight against Covid-19.

“Those who are marginalized will suffer,” says Jha.

Poonam Pandey, 35, said as she and her associates gathered in Shahjahanpur, a small district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, to present a letter asking Minister Yogi Adityanath at a political rally , the police beat them. A spokesperson for the state government did not respond to a text message requesting comment. A spokesperson for the federal Department of Health also did not return calls and texts asking for their response.

“We were called aura warriors and we did everything the government asked us to do,” Pandey said by phone, recounting the horror she endured. “Now we are being beaten for asking for our dues. I demand justice, where will I get it? They are the government, they can do anything. What can we do?” One million female frontline COVID workers in India earn just $40 a month. Now they are planning an attack

Aila Slisco

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