Home / Politics / Policy /  No minimum wages for workers in key central welfare schemes

New Delhi: Millions of workers associated with some of the key welfare schemes that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government showcases as its achievements will have to wait longer to be considered permanent employees and enjoy benefits such as minimum wage.

A proposal of the labour ministry to provide minimum wages and social security benefits such as pension, gratuity and provident fund to workers associated with schemes including the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and the mid-day-meal programme under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) has faced opposition from concerned ministries, according to government document, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint.

The proposal was recently discussed in a meeting comprising representatives from trade unions and several ministries including labour and human resource development (HRD). According to the document, while all trade unions supported the move, the labour ministry could not convince other stakeholders, including the ministries overseeing the schemes in some cases, to accept the proposal.

While accredited social health activist (ASHA) workers under NRHM are termed volunteers and paid incentives, cook-cum-helpers of the mid-day meal programme receive a honorarium of 1,000 a month. The so-called anganwadi or healthcare workers, the key to the government’s Integrated Child Development Programme, also receive a honorarium between 1500 and 3000 a month. If paid minimum wages, both would earn 5000 a month. Overall, there are over around six million workers associated with all such schemes.

The department of school education under the HRD ministry said workers associated with the mid-day-meal programme under SSA cannot be treated as permanent employees. “They work for about 3-4 hours in the schools, preparing and serving the meal. Since cook-cum helpers... are engaged for limited hours... they are not treated as government employees," the government document said, expressing the view of the HRD ministry. There are some 2.74 million such workers who help one of the biggest education schemes in the country that aims to arrest dropout rates by providing food to students studying in government schools. According to official data, 110 million students benefit from the scheme.

An official at the HRD ministry said his department is considering a proposal to enhance the honorarium to the cooks to 1500 a month in 2013-14 and 2000 a month from 2015-16.

The document reviewed by Mint also showed that ASHA workers are termed volunteers even if they work for eight to nine hours a day.

A health ministry official said there are no plans to make these workers permanent.

Both officials asked not to be identified.

G. Sanjeeva Reddy, president of Indian National Trade Union Congress, a trade union affiliated to the Congress party, said the meeting remained inconclusive. He said it was imperative that these workers be paid minimum wages.

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