The New Trade Union Initiative stands in solidarity with the indefinite strike from 11 September 2017 of Maharashtra’s 210,000 Anganwadi workers. The strike was called by the Maharashtra Rajya Anganwadi Karmachari Kruti Samiti (joint-committee), a seven trade union platform that represents all anganwadi workers in Maharashtra which includes the NTUI affiliate Maharashtra Rajya Anganwadi Karmchari Sangh which represents 70,000 of the striking anganwadi workers.
The Government of Maharashtra had set up a committee under the chairmanship of the Secretary of Women and Child Development department in August 2016 to examine the rise in honorarium.The Committee submitted its recommendations in March 2017 and these are yet to be implemented. The unions had informed the government that they would launch an agitation from 13 September 2017 in all the districts if the recommendations were not implemented. A panel was set up based on the recommendation of the Committee. This panel on 30 June recommended that the honorarium of the Anganwadi workers and helpers be raised to Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 7,500 respectively. Even though the state Minister for Rural Development, and Women and Child Welfare, had agreed to implement the recommendations, no action has been taken. The anganwadi workers began their strike as the government failed to fulfill the workers’ demand for a higher honorarium that is linked to educational qualification and seniority as recommended by the Government’s Mandhanwat Samiti (Honorarium Committee) and for higher allocation of funds for improved nutritional supplements provided to children.
Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) and Anganwadi Helpers (AWHs) are employed under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) of the Central Government to deliver flagship government programmes for health, nutrition and education for children under 6 years, for pregnant and nursing mothers, and additionally to adolescent girls. Despite recommendation of the 45th Indian Labour Conference to recognise ‘scheme workers’ as ‘workers’ and recognize their right to a minimum wages and social security benefits including pension and gratuity, and the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Empowerment of Women that Anganwadi workers should be paid minimum wages linked to consumer price index, the government insists that this work is ‘voluntary’ in nature for which the government pays the ‘volunteers’ an ‘honorarium’, and hence kept far below even the agricultural minimum wage.
Apart from the fact that anganwadi workers perform a critical function of the government it is widely accepted that low wages not just contribute to poverty they contribute to the lack of a stable economic growth in a situation where the working class is unable to pay for its needs. There are today nearly 1.5 crore ‘honorarium workers’ employed in the various central government poverty programmes all working on poverty wages with no rights as workers.
In Maharashtra, an anganwadi worker is paid Rs. 5,000, a helper Rs. 2,500, and a worker of a mini-anganwadi centre is paid Rs. 3,500 per month. In comparison, the Maharashtra minimum wage for unskilled hospital workers is Rs. 8,827. The Delhi government recently increased the honorarium paid to Anganwadi workers and helpers to Rs 9,678 and 4,839 per month, respectively with an additional amount of Rs. 500 and Rs. 250 per month, respectively, for mobile and internet charges.
The NTUI salutes the Maharashtra Rajya Anganwadi Kruti Samiti for their determination and unity in advancing their struggle and calls upon the Government of Mahararashtra to concede to the more than reasonable demands of the Samiti.
Further the NTUI calls upon the Government of India to:
1. Recognise of all anganwadi workers as ‘workers’
2. Regularise all AWW and AWH in Grades III and IV of Government employment respectively with commensurate salary, benefits and increments
3. Pay pension to all AWWs and AWHs at a minimum of 50% of last drawn wage
4. Ensure medical leave and earned leave for all AWWs and AWHs