August 20, 2023

Bihar: 32-Day ASHA Workers’ Strike Ends after Talks with Health Minister

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

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 August 13, 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), increasing 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.

The final round of talks of the protesting leaders with Bihar deputy chief minister-cum-health minister Tejashwi Yadav were held on August 13, and once an agreement was reached on the nine-point demands, the end of the strike was announced by the ASHA Samyukta Sangharsh Manch.

It is to be recalled 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’. August 11 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.

The government would consider providing the ASHAs retirement benefits and extending their retirement age from 60 to 65 years. 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 per cent. 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.