13th April, 2020
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has rightly following the Prime Minister's cryptic slogan jaan bhi jahan bhi announced resumption of economic activity in various sectors including farming, factories requiring continuous operations and those producing essential products like drugs, fertilizers, coal, etc. and plantations with 50% workforce participation and free movement of goods across the borders for both domestic and international trade. The notification will infuse life into the almost dormant economy and will together ensure increased availability of essential goods and services and give the much-needed freedom for farming activity. These will not only higher supply of essential goods and services, harvesting and sowing activities in agricultural sector and more importantly revive economy. At the same time, these raise important additional challenges in terms of providing income support to those who though desiring to work and do not enjoy the work-from-home facility will not be allowed to report for work. The release of permissible goods and services relate largely to medium and large-scale industries and still the concerns of the MSMEs most of which may not be a part of the exempted essential goods and services. These are most likely to benefit the skilled and technical workers and may not provide respite and relief to the millions of others and especially the daily-wage-earners and this will create and sustain further economic inequalities. Much of them will doubtlessly be migrant, casual, contract workers whose economic distress will take further beating. The social distancing will at once disenable these workers who performing odd and unskilled work and hence income support to them will be essential. The MSMEs and the precarious workers together require economic support and the government must consult with trade unions and small industry bodies to frame fiscal measures for their sustenance till complete lifting of lockdown is possible. The EPF rate subvention and EPF advance facility have afforded only limited relief and the lakhs of workers who do not have credible EPF accounts are denied any form of income and social security support. The government should immediately come up with a commercial credit and other economic measures to the MSMEs and/or direct cash benefit to the Jhan Dhan accounts at least Rs.5,000 which will provide meagre succour to the poor households.
At the same time, the Supreme Court has directed the government to provide adequate medical facilities, food, clean drinking water and sanitation and also counselling to the migrant workers in the relief camps/shelter homes. The government must quickly and unfailingly involve the trade unions and the civil society NGOs in designing relief measures ensure that the announced the rehabilitation processes of the migrant and precarious workers as they can serve vital links to serve them. In fact, the ILO has specially emphasized 'social dialogue' at all levels as one of the four pillars of economic and social revival in its ILO Monitor 2nd edition: COVID-19 and the world of work issued on 7 April 2020. ILO's Social Protection Floor Recommendation offers credible framework which could be used constructively in this crisis-ridden economic and social context.
Prof. K.R. Shyam Sundar
Professor, HRM Area
XLRI, Xavier School of Management