Coronavirus: Govt seeks industry views on how to bring workforce back

One of the plans the CII is going to suggest to the Union labour and employment ministry is that those workers staying in shelter homes or camps
The Union government has sought views of the industry in formulating a plan to get the workforce back to factories, as the economic activities will begin to re-start in a phased manner from April 20.

According to sources, Labour and Employment Secretary Heeralal Samariya reached out to industry executives, a day after the Home Ministry’s revised lockdown guidelines for the period between April 15 and May 3 were made public.

The industry executives have sought the help of the government in mobilising the migrant workers from camps. “One of the prime problems that the industry is going to face is the shortage of labour,” a top Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) executive said. “We are in the process of mapping the requirement of workers in the industrial belts and submitting it to the government.”

One of the plans the CII is going to suggest to the Union labour and employment ministry is that those workers staying in shelter homes or camps may be mobilised by opening communication channels through the local administration since inter-state movement is not allowed. “In the clusters, the workers can be made aware of the vacancy in the nearby industrial unit or belts and the workers can be channelised there after they are tested for COVID-19 virus,” the executive said.

The national lockdown, first imposed on March 25, has trigged reverse migration of workers but those who couldn’t go back to their villages are staying in shelter camps set in various states. There are around 1.4 million workers residing in 26,476 relief camps in various states. Around 1 million migrant workers have already gone back to their villages, either by some mode of transportation or on foot.

Companies have also highlighted that bringing migrant workers to the workplace will be a challenge for companies since many of them are staying in the designated ‘red zones’ where movement of vehicles is prohibited, according to an industry executive.

On the government’s guidelines to restart work, the CII will ask the government to share the burden of passing on compulsory medical insurance to all workers.

Experts have said the government’s guidelines have the potential of increasing the cost of operations for companies. Workers will have to go through a mandatory thermal screening while entering or exiting the workplace and firms will have to make transportation arrangements for workers, along with other measures to ensure a safe workplace. Importantly, medical insurance for all workers will be mandatory.

The industry will seek the government’s help in extending the medical insurance cover for workers either through the Employees’ State Insurance scheme or the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (which provides a cover of up to ~500,000 a family every year).

“The micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will face a challenge in providing medical insurance to its workers, at a time when they are already facing a cash crunch due to the lockdown. And without MSMEs, rebooting the economy will be an uphill task,” the executive said.

The CII will further ask the ministry to give an extension of 60 days for depositing the employees’ provident fund (EPF) contribution of workers for March, April, and May each. 

The Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) had on Wednesday giving companies a grace of 30 days for submitting the PF contribution for March. Companies were supposed to deposit it by April 15, which has been extended till May 15. They are required to make a contribution of 12 per cent each as employers’ and employees’ share towards the EPF scheme.

The CII will request the government to allow more companies to take the benefit of the EPF subsidy, under the Pradha Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana announced by the government last month. Under the scheme, only companies (with a manpower of up to 100 employees) which employ 90 per cent of workers below the monthly wage of Rs 15,000 a month will receive provident fund contribution from the government for 3 months. "The cap of 90 per cent workers earning less than Rs 15,000 a month makes a lot of MSMEs ineligible for the scheme," another industry executive said.

According to the Home Ministry's guidelines, industries operating in semi-urban or rural areas, manufacturing units in special economic zones and expert-oriented units will be allowed to resume operations from April 20, provided they follow hygiene and adequate social distancing practices at the workplace.

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