New Delhi, 16 February 2015: Nearly a thousand members of the NTUI affiliates, ASHA Workers & Facilitators Union, Punjab and the Mid-day Meal Workers Union, Punjab held a joint demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi. Fraternal support was extended by the Delhi unit of the IFTU and the Pragatisheel Mahila Samity.
The demonstration was addressed by Comrades Paramjit Kaur Mann and Mamta Sharma from the ASHA Workers & Facilitators Union, Lakhwinder Kaur and Balwinder Kaur from the Mid-day Meal Workers Union and Poonam Kaushik from Pragati Mahila Sangathan. Comrade Gautam Mody, General Secretary, Comrades Ashok Choudhary and Ashim Roy, Vice Presidents and Comrade Germanjit Singh, Joint Secretary from Punjab also addressed the demonstration. The meeting was also attended by senior leaders of NTUI from Punjab Comrades Makkhan Singh, Nachattar Singh, and Harinder Dosanjh. Dr. Mrigank of IFTU also addressed the rally.
The speakers focused their attention on the dismal condition of the ASHA and Mid-day Meal workers, all women, employed in the delivery of flagship anti-poverty government programmes at poverty wages without any social security. Com Mamta Sharma of the ASHA Workers and Facilitators Union vociferously demanded recognition as ‘workers’ and not ‘volunteers’. Their demand for dignity was articulated in their demand for recognition as workers and payment of minimum wages and not the paltry sums they are paid as ‘volunteers’.
Speaking about the plight of Mid-day Meal Workers – about thirty seven thousand mid day meal workers in Punjab – mostly women, performing the critical task of cooking and serving meals to children in schools for a monthly honorarium of Rs. 1200 for 11 months of the year, the leader of the MDM Workers union Com. Lakhwinder Kaur demanded recognition as workers and wages for 12 months of the year like other non-teaching staff of the schools. As women workers both the ASHA workers and the MDM workers demanded social security benefits, including paid maternity benefit.
Delegations of the MDM workers and the Asha workers met with officials at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Ministry of Human Resource Development, respectively, to submit their Charter of Demand respectively. The activists at the demonstration however noted that these meetings are purely symbolic and that government is entirely unresponsive to the needs of the most marginalized. Our challenge is to advance our demand for recognition as workers into a struggle for workers share in the union and state budgets that includes monies allocated for a just wage for the workers who deliver critical anti-poverty and social development programmes including the National Rural Health Mission and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. It is only an increase of social spending in the budget that will ensure better wages and better working conditions. Anti-poverty programmes cannot successfully be led by workers who work at poverty wages under highly exploitative conditions. For the BJP government, the promise of “good governance” and “good days” (achchey din) are not for the working class but for the rich.
With this understanding the demonstration concluded that our struggle for self respect and recognition of workers must be sharpened and strengthened.