The Lockdown Travails

The Lockdown Travails

Lockdown raised a vital question for employees – will they receive pay for the absence due to lockdown? Was it a ‘hamlet-esque’ for employers – to pay or not to pay? I spoke to Arvind Shrouti, who is advisor to more than a hundred unions in Pune, Dilip Pawar who is an office bearer of Shramik Ekta Mahasangh among many others, and a few HR Honchos. (Feature Image denotes migration, Courtesy Passt gut auf euch auf und bleibt gesund Pixabay).

The lockdown began from March 24, 2020. It was brewing for two weeks and people had got the wind of things to come. Tatas were ahead of others – newspapers on March 20 (note the date, it is before the official lockdown) carried a story titled ‘Tata Group will fully compensate temporary staff amid Covid-19 outbreak.’ Mr Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons, made announcement to that effect.

Tata Group announced full pay

It was followed by an appeal from the Prime Minister and then a formal order from MHA. ‘All the employers, be it in the Industry or in the shops and commercial establishments, shall make payment of wages of their workers, at their work places, on the due date, without any deduction, for the period their establishments are under closure during the lockdown.’ (Order of MHA, March 29, 2020, it was withdrawn on May 18.)

I have recorded my conversations with the Union Leaders and HR Honchos which I present to you. Each voice represents a different organisation. So here we go:

We Paid Full Salary to All Employees Irrespective of Status

“We paid everybody full salary for the lockdown period. It included office staff, permanent employees, temporary employees, trainees, NEEM trainees, contract workers. Not just in Pune plant but all sales offices and other factories.”

“(From another organisation) Yes. They paid full salary, except the incentive. The incentive amounted to Rs 2,500 pm. We agreed to forgo, and decided not to raise an issue of it. But they paid full salary even to trainees, NEEM trainees and contract workers.”

“Everybody received full pay till 20th May. From the first week of May they had started calling employees back to work. Initially they focused on those staying near the factory. A few have not yet reported. More than 90% employees have come back to work.”

“In our company about 50% employees are inter-state migrants. They comprise contract workers and those recruited as trainees from YIT and Teamlease. Such contingent workers were paid salary initially but now that the factory is working and wants them back, and if they are unable to return, they will not receive pay for their absence.”

“The company sent a message to trainees and contract workers that once they come to factory, they will not be able to return to their villages, so they should think twice, and decide on whether or not to resume duty after consulting family.”

(Union Office Bearer) “We have surveyed the situation post lockdown. Almost all big industries in Pune Chinchwad belt have paid full wages. Forget the law, I think Prime Minister’s appeal seems has worked.”

Vendors (MSMEs) Have No Workers; Other Industries Are Poaching Skilled Workers!

“Vendors of auto companies were running their enterprise with all-contract workers. There were no permanent workers. They were also from different states. The MSMEs are afraid of recruiting local workers. Today those workers, I mean their contract workers, have not returned to work at many MSMEs. Because they are vendors to big auto-industry, it has created problems of supplies. So a few companies of repute have actually recruited skilled workers and sent them to work with MSMEs. In the process they have paid salaries ranging from Rs 18 Thousand to 30 Thousand per month. It’s a peculiar situation. There is a pay increase to a small section of workers without any demand or agitation!”

Recruitment Ad

“There are advertisements. They have advertised ‘Walk in interviews for skilled workers – fitters, welders, motor mechanics, and diesel mechanics to name a few categories.”

“Did you read the news report in Lokmat (Pune edition of May 20, 2020)? Skilled workers are promised accommodation, Groceries and higher pay. All promises are made to take away skilled workers to another company. There is rampant ‘poaching of skilled workers’ for the industries in Chakan and Ranjangaon industrial areas!”

Lokmat article mentioning poaching

“Workers have been exploited for several years. They do not want to work for MSMEs. People have lost sight of this reality.”

BOSCH Goes Beyond Contract

“When they announced lockdown, we had 200 trainees in our Company. Many of them hailed from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. They were unable to return to their homes. So our company arranged meals for them and some other facilities at their ‘hostel.’”

Employees Must Participate

“Thermax has reached an understanding with their employees that the latter will take a 4% wage cut. It may be symbolic, but it is important that they also appreciate the difficulty their organisation is going through, and participate.”

“You can’t have a uniform policy to implement a wage cut across all plants. Some plants are new, others are old. Salary levels differ. But we have to find a way so that all contribute in some way.”

“We have decided to forgo five days leave. They want us to forgo ten more days leave. That is difficult.”

“They asked us to take a pay cut of 10%. We told them that our salaries are much less than our counterparts in the industry. Moreover our settlement is already delayed by 15 months.”

“The Supreme Court decision has created more confusion. A few companies have told employees that they are contemplating deduction of 10% from the salaries paid for April and May. So they never gave full salaries because it was the right thing to do. They did it because there was an order.”

“Bajaj Auto announced 10% pay cut and got their Union also to agree. Then they reversed the decision, saying it was time to decide using heart not head! They woke up a little late, yet a good move.”

“MNCs do not understand that ground realities are different in India and in their countries. My manager in US suggested that we forgo 15 days leave. I mean he said that we will be marked as if on leave but actually we will be attending factory. I told him this is not done in India. Moreover it will create a huge problem of credibility with our employees.”

Returning to Work

“We did not have any problem of ‘inter-state migrants’ we have a large number of ‘inter-district migrants’. So they could return to work quickly.”

“We had about 1000 workers are in the NEEM, Trainees, and Contract labour category. About 850 of them are from various districts in Maharashtra. They returned to work, almost all of them.”

Arvind Shrouti has done splendid work to develop positive employee relations

“There were some workers in our factory who hailed from Orissa and Jharkhand. They wish to return; I called them up and spoke to them. But their family and elders are not willing to let them go. ‘Wait and watch’ they say, he told me. He said that the family feels he should return to work only after Diwali.”

“I rang him up. He is in his native place. He said that the rail fare is high and unaffordable.”

“They read about the worsening situation in Mumbai-Pune. That’s why they are afraid to come here. They know that if they come here it will be difficult to return.”

“Did you log in to that webinar? There was this economist who said that a quick survey tells him that 70% want to go back to original place of work.”

“If you take a domestic servant to Dubai, you have to deposit the amount equivalent to airfare with the Government. Just in case you remove him or her from work, the Government utilises the money to repatriate. We should have a similar scheme. If the lockdown happens again, they can use the money and return.”

“Running a factory is a problem. We have created small groups of workers. They work together and have to go together for lunch and tea. They must maintain safe distance from others. In canteens the ‘self-help’ is not allowed because of infection threat. So a few volunteers serve the food. There are clear instructions about what to do and who to quarantine if one member is tested positive. We have given clear instructions for travel to and fro factory.”

“Initially some factories were shut down if someone was found infected,  now that has eased, but workers ask ‘will the hospital expenses be paid by company if they contract the infection?’.”

“What is the liability of the employer if an employee is in quarantine or in containment zone? In rare cases, companies have agreed to pay full wages but mostly it is 50-50. The employee is asked to apply for leave if possible, otherwise he will be paid 50% salary. But Corona is here to stay. I wonder how long employees can avail leave and how long this arrangement will last.”

Lessons to Learn

“We have to provide better living conditions and a better social security. Medical and Sickness insurance is essential.”

“Do you know why things work abroad, particularly in Dubai and Muscat? That is because law is rigorously enforced. In our country everything can be negotiated. Social security is okay, but biggest security is action against injustice.”

“He went all the way to Jharkhand. And called me up. He had landed in strange situation. When he left his village, he had asked for his share of the ancestral property and got it too. So when he went back, he stayed with his relatives. But he soon realised that he was a ‘guest.’ That situation won’t continue too long. He has no choice but to return to the city.”

And Finally….

“Some questions must be revisited. How to create sensitivity among employees to the situation an organisation faces? Is pay cut or forgoing leave the best way?”

“Will such sensitivity get created when you employ 100 permanent workers and 1000 trainees, NEEM trainees and Contract workers?”

“Do you really think that managements will revisit their ways of managing?”

“Sir, tell me…. How many HR managers have visited and seen how their contract workers and trainees live? How will they see the situation as we see it?”

“I suppose the biggest issues are about how long the lockdown will continue and how the medical assistance will be delivered to those infected. If it is too long, then cuts are inevitable. And in case lockdown is lifted, then Covid insurance has to be in place with all factories.”

“Leadership is put to test when an organisation is in distress. Tatas earn our respect because they are ahead on this score. They declared full pay as a policy for the lockdown, and implemented even for not-so-cash-rich companies. They seem to be the only who announced a principle based policy.”

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.

“Aroehan: Creating Dream Villages in Mokhada by 2025: “No Malnutrition Deaths, No ‘Out of School’ Child, Reduce migration by 50%.”