The Covid 19 pandemic has brought the importance of the ASHA workers in running and sustaining the public health care system to the forefront. Since the pandemic broke out ASHA workers have been working as frontline workers against the coronavirus outbreak performing important tasks like disease surveillance, reaching out to infected patients with medicine, conducting daily temperature checks in neighbourhoods and encouraging people to get vaccinated against the virus. But little is known about the fact that most of the work done by ASHAs goes unnoticed and is grossly underpaid. To begin with ASHA workers were meant to carry out tasks around healthcare for children and pregnant and young mothers. But during the course of the pandemic, they have been made to most of the grunt work in the public health system with little or no pay and zero recognition of the risks they have taken and putting their own lives in danger while carrying out their responsibilities. An overwhelming number of ASHA workers across the country didn’t even get basic equipment like masks, face shields, gloves and sanitizers during the covid pandemic. On top of being perennially underpaid, receiving just Rs. 3000 as honorarium for their regular work, they received a pittance of Rs. 1000 as bonus for the extra work they performed during the pandemic. Despite this they have received scant recognition for the crucial role they performed as frontline workers.

To highlight the apathy with which they are regarded the Delhi ASHA Kamgaar Union affiliated to AICCTU conducted a sample survey of over 200 ASHA workers across 10 dispensaries in Delhi. The findings of the survey paint a stark picture of the underpaid and exploitative working conditions that ASHA workers have to face day in and day out. It also shows that little respect that is paid to the labour of ASHA workers who work in undignified work conditions.

The important findings of the survey are as follows:

  • Nearly all the respondent ASHA workers said they have no fixed working hours and are on call 24*7, which means they are perennially on standby mode to respond to any emergency. While they are on call throughout the day, they receive no allowance for this.

  • 86% of the respondents said they do not receive a fixed remuneration for the work they do. This is despite the fact that ASHA workers who were surveyed had an average work experience as ASHA of six and a half years. This clearly means that the problem of not receiving any fixed remuneration is a long standing one.

  • Most ASHA workers are supposed to receive Rs. 3000 per month as honorarium. This is way lower than the legally mandated minimum wages for workers. The sheer cruelty of this becomes starker when seen along with the finding of the survey that 30% of the respondents said they are the only earning member in the family, which means their family survives on the Rs. 3000 they earn as honorarium.

  • In addition to the pittance, they receive as pay 66% of ASHA workers surveyed said some amount is regularly deducted from their monthly pay on some pretext or the other.  

  • All ASHA workers said they performed duties other than child health and maternal health care during the pandemic like monitoring home isolation and conducting surveys during the pandemic.

  • On an average each ASHA workers covered 550 households as part of their work during the covid pandemic performing a variety of tasks. For this work they received an average of Rs. 180 per ASHA worker pointing to the fact that remuneration paid to ASHA workers are completely arbitrary and irregular.

  • 90% of the respondents said there are no restrooms available for their use in the dispensaries.

  • About 45% of ASHA workers said they regularly face misbehaviour and harassment from their superiors at their workplace.

  • 85% of respondents said they did not receive any gloves, 67% said did not receive any mask and 75% said they did not get any sanitiser to perform their work relating to the coronavirus.

  • Family members of many ASHA workers were infected with the virus both in the first and the second wave but not barring a few exceptions ASHA workers got no help from the government for their treatment.

  • While ASHA workers are supposed to be paid Rs. 1000 as covid allowance which in itself is absolutely shameful many do not get that regularly. In the survey it was found among the respondents that only 30% of ASHA workers received the covid allowance regularly.

From the above findings a clear picture emerges of the underpaid and exploitative nature of the work that ASHA workers do. Trade unions of ASHA workers and trade unions in general have been saying it for years that ASHA workers are one of the most underpaid and overexploited members of the working class. Despite the invaluable service they have provided during the course of the pandemic only lip service has been paid to them without guaranteeing their rights and dignity. The findings presented here are preliminary findings from the survey conducted by the Delhi ASHA Kamgaar Union, a detailed report will be released very soon.

Delhi ASHA workers