Covid-19 exposes regulatory chinks, may force firms to replan work formats

Emphasising on financial sector reforms, Sabharwal said credit-to-GDP ratio is just 50 per cent in the economy.
Experts believe that the Covid-19 has exposed chinks in India's regulatory system and that there would be changes the way companies organise their workforce and businesses after things stabilise.

In a panel discussion on Covid-19 and the Future of Work, organised by NITI Aayog, they said the work-from-home model may not be suitable for formal businesses once things stabilise.

NITI CEO Amitabh Kant said, "We are all grappling with a very complex, very unpredictible and very dynamic situation."

Manish Sabharwal, chairman of Teamlease, said the virus has shown  that India's economy has three existing conditions which are problems -- we are much less formalised, much less urbanised and have much less financial inclusion. 

"Essentially, our labour is handicapped without capital and our capital is handicapped without labour," he said. 

He said the economy needs a dose of labour, social security, financial and education reforms to tap the opportunity offered by this crisis.

He said companies can’t comply with 100 per cent with India’s labour laws without violating them. 

"You need a dose of education reforms. Ayatollahs of education and UGC have made sure that only 30 universities out of 800 can offer online learning in this crisis. US institutions have signed up 200,000 Indian students during the past one month," Sabharwal said. 

Social security reforms are also needed, he said, pointing out that provident fund is the world’s most expensive government security scheme and ESI is India’s costliest health insurance programme.

Emphasising on financial sector reforms, Sabharwal said credit-to-GDP ratio is just 50 per cent in the economy.  

"The only thing we need to do is to unleash regulatory overhaul which is holding us back," he added, saying that small and medium enterprises are being ignored when the government asks companies to pay salaries to workers when customers are on strike.

"I think you are telling Tatas, Birlas, Infosys and HDFC and ignoring 62 million small and medium enterprises. And these big enterprises are not anyway the future. The average life expectancy of fortune 500 companies when the first list came out was 64, and now it is 40," Sabharwal said.

Nasscom president Debjani Ghosh said the government should exempt small and medium enterprises and start-ups from complying with legislative processes for at least 2-3 years. Their dues in terms of GST-refunds etc be paid back.

Abhiraj Bahl, co-founder of Urban Company said many people will unfortunately become unemployed worldwide as happens in any recession.

Many of them would look towards informal work, the gig economy, to sustain themselves in the next few years, he said, adding that that will eventually become the new normal.

Bahl asserted that the workplace will become lot more global, saying tha historically, it is the low-end IT, ITeS and back office work that has got outsourced.

"What we will get to see is that lot more high quality, productive work is going to be outsourced to emerging markets," he said.

Bahl doubted that work-from-home will become the nature of jobs in the formal set-up.

"There is a point beyond which you can’t work from home. It is as much about productivity as about camaraderie, workmanship, team-building. You want to be surrounded by certain amount of energy
which only being co-located offers," Bahl said.

He said formal work locations will not move to the homely channel kind of model and will eventually spring back fully to the work-from-office model. 

Sabharwal said work-from-home has provided continuity, but it is yet to be seen whether it will provide productivity. It has exposed the class system, he said, adding 70 per cent of his graduate workers can work from home, but only 10 per cent of his non-graduates can do so too.

"Andrew Carnegie (US industrialist) was once asked how many workers worked at his steel unit. He said about half. That is what many CEOs are saying for work-from-home now. I know lots of nice stories for work from home, but if people are honest they should apply for leave. I think 5-10 per cent is fine, but we are not going to work from home," Sabharwal said.  

Sunil Munjal, chairman Hero Enterprise, said the nature of jobs itself will change and there will be greater use of technology and communication.

He said businesses are questioning themselves as to what new model they would like to follow once things normalise.

"How many people do we want to be boxed into an office, how much remote work is okay, how many working hours do we want and how many we want only based on the output, are questions companies will be asking themselves," he said.

Munjal said," We are seeing a new era that I would like to call glocalisation."

India has a unique opportunity today to pick a pie in the supply chain of the world, he added. 

Elaborating on this, he said many  global companies are developing what they call one plus-one strategy. They want to continue to be in China, but they want to hedge their risks by going to other countries as well.

"India is well positioned to handle this crisis," Munjal said. "I think we have good chance of attracting capital, attracting more talent, attracting more ideas and technology into the country
in the manufacturing sector." 

World Band country director Junaid Ahmad said he wasn't worried about the private sector’s ability to change, but the key question was whether the state would change the way it governs.

"Unless the state changes, all the opportunities that are going to come may not be tapped in line with expectations," he said. 

He lauded Kerala for the way it had responded to the crisis and ist unique approach in community building.n payroll taxes paid to date in this year and/or an extension of payment terms for the rest of 2020, along with a temporary waiver of ticket taxes and other government-imposed levies.

Ficci said financial aid in terms of reduction in airport charges, overflight fees, taxation on passengers on security, waiver on parking and landing fees should be provided along with royalties to the airports for using the infrastructure, among others.

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