Around 6 lakh Accredited Social Health Activist or ASHA workers across India launched a two-day strike on Friday, demanding better pay and protection from disease amid the country’s raging coronavirus crisis, Bloomberg reported.

At a protest in Bengaluru, the ASHA workers demanded a minimum wage of Rs 21,000 per month, proper personal equipment kits and medical insurance for their families, NDTV reported. The ASHA workers said that since they are involved in collecting coronavirus-related data and following up with patients, they risk taking the infection home.

The workers also said that they had to undertake difficult journeys for work. “In some places, we had a lot of difficulty reaching households, especially in the mountainous regions... Households would be very far apart and we had to get to each of them on foot,” Nagalakshmi D, an ASHA union leader told Reuters. “During rains, we had to cross rivers by boat and rope bridges too.”

In Delhi, the ASHA workers staged a protest at Palam Dispensary. They were seen holding placards demanding that the government stop the privatisation of health schemes and institutions.

ASHA workers in Bihar began their protest on Thursday. The workers, who have not been paid for months, said that they will not tolerate the exploitation of labour anymore.

The ASHA workers’ protest was launched collectively by 10 unions, including the Indian National Trade Union Congress, the All India Trade Union Congress, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions and the Self Employed Women’s Association. Centre of Trade Unions Secretary AR Sindhu told Reuters that at least 100 health workers have died of the coronavirus in India so far but the government had not provided any insurance to their families.

Also read: These frontline workers died of Covid-19. Their families are now struggling to get insurance money

The ASHA workers launched their protest on the day India’s coroavirus cases crossed 20 lakh. The country reported its biggest single-day rise of 62,538 cases. The highly-infectious disease has killed more than 41,000 people in India.

Last month, the Supreme Court had directed the government to ensure that salaries of doctors and frontline healthcare workers, who are involved in tackling the coronavirus pandemic, were paid on time. At another hearing in June, the top court had expressed concern over reports of health workers not being paid and told the government that “you do not want dissatisfied soldiers in the war” against the coronavirus crisis.

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