Since scheme workers across the country suffer with paltry wages and poor social security, mid-day meal workers from Bihar and Anganwadi workers from Punjab are on strike demanding minimum wages and better working conditions for workers. Scheme workers include Anganwadi workers and helpers, mini Anganwadi workers, ASHA workers, mid-day meal workers, NCLP teachers, small savings agents, workers under SSA, NRLM, MNREGA field assistants, par teachers etc.
Nearly 5,000 Anganwadi workers and helpers under the banner of Anganwadi Mulazam Union, which is affiliated to Centre for Indian Trade Unions (CITU), have begun a three-day-long protest march, like the Maharashtra farmers’ march from Nasik to Mumbai. These workers have started from Fatehgarh Sahib on Monday; by Wednesday evening, the marching workers will reach Chandigarh.
“The three-day march will conclude tomorrow evening, as we submit a memorandum which includes our demands to the concerned authorities including the chief minister,” said Usha Rani, national president of All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers (AIFAWH).
“About 54,000 workers are into the Anganwadi system all across the state. Right now, the Anganwadi teachers get only Rs 5,600 and helpers get only Rs 2,800 as an honorarium. We demand that the workers should get the minimum wage of Rs 18,000, pension, maternity leave and other monitory benefits,” she added.
Apart from this, the workers oppose the state government policy, which suggests merging Anganwadis and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). Earlier, the Congress-led state government had formed a policy that would merge 800 primary schools and start pre-primary classes in government schools by merging the Anganwadi centres. The pre-primary classes at the government schools that were intended for the children in the age group of 3-6 years – which come under ICDS –ultimately would have resulted in the shutdown of the Anganwadis. Though chief minister Amarinder Singh had assured, after a series of protests in November 2017, that no Anganwadi centre would be affected with the policy, things are not yet clear.
Unions call for Jail Bharo Andolan in Bihar on August 9
On the other hand, several thousands of mid-day meal workers from Bihar have been protesting since May 24. The workers, who have been protesting at Gardnibagh in Patna, have staged a massive sit-in in front of the residence of the chief minister Nitish Kumar raising their various pending demands on Monday.
“If the government is not ready to consider the issues of the workers, we will hold a Jail Bharo protest across the state on August 9,” the workers have warmed the government.
“In 2009, the central government had fixed an honorarium of Rs. 1,000 for the Mid-day meal workers. Nine years after the order, we get very meagre amounts as an honorarium. The workers do additional duties other than cooking nutritious food for the school children. Still, our rights and demands are not met,” said Jai Bhagawan, national secretary of All India Coordination Committee of Mid-day Meal Workers.
“We are demanding that all employees get the minimum wage of Rs 18000, medical facilities, social security and pension etc. Recognise us (scheme workers) as workers,” he added.
A large section of mid-day meal workers in Bihar are women and workers from deprived sections of the society, earn only Rs 1,250 a month as honorarium after 6-7 hours of work a day. At times, there are delays in the payment.
The workers and central trade unions have been demanding the implementation of the recommendations of the 45th ILC on scheme workers. The recommendations include “recognition as workers, minimum wages not less than Rs.18,000 per month and social security including monthly pension not less than Rs.3000 to all scheme workers. Give coverage of EPF and ESI to scheme workers.”
One key demand of the workers and unions is “no privatisation of the schemes in any form and no subversion by way of cash transfer or exclusion of beneficiaries.”
However, the BJP-led Centre has intensified its efforts to privatise the schemes. In a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which had been signed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Cairn India Ltd, a subsidiary of the multinational ‘Vedanta’, the Centre asserted its commitment “to develop and modernise 4,000 next-generation Anganwadis in the country”. Apart from Vedanta, NGOs like Akshaya Patra Foundation, Nandi Foundation etc. have stepped into this field by supplying food cooked in centralised kitchens, which are located far from the schools.
Besides, in the Union budget 2015-16, the government had changed the funding pattern, putting the entire responsibility of running the scheme on to the state government. The Government of India had drastically cut down the budget allocation for ICDS to mere Rs 8335.77 crores in 2015-16 from Rs 18,195 crores last year. As AIFAWH had noted earlier, “Narendra Modi is the first Prime Minister who had cut down the budget for ICDS by around 60% in his first full budget.”