HOPEFULLY, the prime minister’s approval on Sunday has clinched the issue. For the past one year, news of the impending regularisation of the services of more than 100,000 lady health workers had frequently been flashed in the papers. These contractual workers were believed to have almost got their due when their protests won them a notice from the Supreme Court in March 2012. In June, the court ordered permanent employment for LHWs, following which, in early July, the cabinet approved the case. Still, the shift, which was to cost an estimated Rs17bn, was delayed. Amid persistent protests by these workers, one of the objections to the regularisation had the usual political basis to it. Since the LHW programme was launched by Ms Benazir Bhutto as prime minister many years ago, the current PPP government was suspected of seeking to use the regularisation issue as a political and election ploy. Primarily, though, the package was stalled pending an agreement between the provinces, which hold jurisdiction over the health sector after the passage of the 18th Amendment, and the federal government over its financial costs. Despite the decentralisation, it was the centre which was paying the salaries of these LHWs. And as the provinces, mainly Punjab, held they did not have the money, Islamabad did finally commit itself to bearing the financial burden of the regularisation. On the authority of a spokesperson for LHWs, the prime minister has now committed to pay these workers up to the year 2017. This is sufficient time for the provinces to take over, or to work out a formula with the federal government for the continuation of this important programme.
Lady health workers have been in urgent need of security. Irregular employment did not go well with the responsibilities the LHWs were assigned. They have been operating at a most basic level under trying conditions, sometimes exposed to dangers graver than those generally associated with their duties. A fairer financial reward and employment security is the least the government can give to these women in the vanguard of the country’s health initiative.