Millions of scheme workers all over India went on strike on January 17th. Their demands include
1) minimum wage of Rs 18,000 per month, and social security including monthly pension and coverage under Employees Provident Fund and Employees’ State Insurance. This is as per the recommendation of the 45th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) on scheme workers. Currently most scheme workers are considered `volunteers’ and not `workers’ and are paid an honorarium of Rs 1000 a month.
2) They demand adequate financial allocation in the Union Budget 2018-19 for the Centrally sponsored schemes. This is to ensure an increase in wages for the workers to the level of minimum wages and universalisation of the schemes with adequate infrastructure and quality services.
3) No privatisation of the schemes in any form and no subversion by way of cash transfer or exclusion of beneficiaries.
Scheme workers include more than 60 lakh workers in Anganwadi, mini-Anganwadis, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme, Mid-Day Meal Scheme, National Health Mission, National Rural Livelihoods Mission, National Child Labour Project, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Small Savings Schemes. The strike was organized by various central trade unions, which include Center of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Trade Union Congress (INTUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), The All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTU), Labour Progressive Federation (LPF), Trade Union Coordination Center (TUCC), Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC).
The workers under these schemes who deliver the basic services of health, nutrition and education to the mass of the population are not recognized as workers and are not paid minimum wages. They are also denied any social security benefits.
AIFAWH (All India Federation of Anganwadi Workers and Helpers) general secretary A. R. Sindhu told Newsclick: “The functioning of the schemes is being affected due to the budget cuts. In the 2015-16 Union budget, the Centre had drastically cut down the budget allocation for ICDS to mere Rs.8335.77 in 2015-16 from Rs. 18,195 crores from the previous year. The allocation for MDM schemes was cut short from 13 thousand crores to 9 thousand crores too.”
The Modi government is not just cutting budgets, but also pushing for privatisation of the schemes, citing lack of funds. In particular, it is actively engaging with corporates and NGOs like Vedanta, JP Cements, Nandi Foundation, and ISKON. For example, the Ministry for Women and Child Development (WCD) signed an MoU with the Vedanta in 2015 to take over the the development of 4,000 Anganwadis in India.
The joint statement of trade unions emphasized the government’s attempt to actively dismantle these schemes: “The beneficiaries are actually being excluded in the name of linking of Aadhar and bank accounts. The government is introducing conditional cash transfers in place of universal services of crucial schemes including the ones which ensure food security.”
Thus, the government’s treatment of scheme workers is part of a much
larger program to further marginalize the majority of workers and
force them into ever more precarious labour relations.