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Restarting work: Industry staring at higher operations cost

By Somesh Jha
April 16, 2020 14:17 IST
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Ensuring health insurance for all workers would be major challenge for the industry that is already grappling with cash crunch, and the government should have borne the cost.

The government may have allowed industries in rural areas, special economic zones, and export-oriented units to resume operations from April 20 with some health riders, but experts say these conditions have the potential of increasing cost of operations.

“Protecting health will come at a cost for firms, as they have to provide for all necessary measures, including dormitory and transportation. The cost to company will considerably rise,” said K R Shyam Sundar, professor (human resources management), XLRI Jamshedpur.

 

Guidelines released by the Union home ministry, on Wednesday, mandate firms to follow a standard operating procedure for social distancing at offices, workplaces, factories and establishments.

For starters, all premises have to be disinfected. Wearing of masks has been made compulsory.

Companies will also have to provide transport to employees, with “30-40 per cent passenger capacity” in each vehicle.

Workers will have to go through mandatory thermal screening at their workplaces.

Medical insurance for all workers is mandatory.

A top executive of the Confederation of Indian Industry said ensuring health insurance for all workers would be major challenge for the industry that is already grappling with cash crunch, and the government should have borne the cost.

According to the guidelines, there should be no overlap in shift timing, though this might not be a big issue as it is already a mandate under the Factories Act of 1948.

“Large gatherings or meetings of 10 or more people to be discouraged.

"Seating of at least 6 feet away from others on job sites and in gatherings, meetings and training sessions to be ensured,” the guidelines read.

Sundar said this would lead to one-third of workers in a unit being left out, according to back-to-the-envelope calculations.

“But with negotiations between employers and trade unions, there could be an arrangement by which all workers are called, but in rotation,” he added.

Importantly, employees who have children below the age of 5 and those with co-morbidities will be encouraged to work from home.

The government has provided relief to self-employed workers such as electricians, mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters by allowing them to go to work.

“These measures are largely targeted at reinstating the informal sector economy.

"It will certainly support the workforce that has left cities and returned to villages, whether it is in the construction sector or tea and plantation industry,” said Rituparna Chakraborty, senior vice-president, Teamlease Services.

She said that though the order also helps the e-commerce sector in some ways, the real challenge would be to find workers because most have already left for home.

While she agreed that cost of companies will rise in the short run, she said it would become the new normal.

“You cannot afford to restart work at the cost of health,” she added.

Sundar said that since the circular gives a lot of leeway to open up the rural economy, governments should make an effort to transport migrants stuck in urban areas back to their villages.

Photograph: Mahipal Soni/Rediff.com

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Somesh Jha in New Delhi
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