Comment of Prof. K.R. Shyam Sundar
Professor, HRM Area at XLRI, Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur
There are talks concerning the possibilities of lifting or continuation of the 21-days of lockdown which will of course depend on the empirical realities relating to threats posed by Covid-19. The PM has been holding talks with several Chief Ministers, sportspersons, and others in the last few days.
The PM should involve and consult with representatives of trade unions and industry associations in several ways to deal with the implications of Covid-19 in the world of work wherein around 465 million workers work and possibly 30-50 million workers are either rendered unemployed due to Covid-19 and/or already unemployed. The CMIE survey reports a huge spike in the unemployment rate to 23-24%, which could well be an underestimate as their samples may not capture the status of widely stranded migrant workers.
ILO has advocated the use of social dialogue among others to deal with the Covid-19 crisis to manage the issues relating to the world of work and the larger society. In fact the Prime Minister Modi has hailed the Indian Labour Conference as Labour Parliament of India and India has ratified the ILO Convention C.144 Tripartite Consultation (International Labour Standards) Convention, 1976.
Social dialogue on a continuing basis at the macro level through tripartite consultations (the government, industry and trade unions) is urgently required. This will facilitate reception of vital information relating to the Industry’s concerns (say in implementing the directives of the government to pay wages during the national lockdown or business losses) and workers’ issues (relating to migrant workers, the extent to which government relief measures have actually provided relief to the working poor, etc.) which will help better design and targeting of relief measures during the remainder of the lockdown period.
Trade unions are doing essential and invaluable fieldwork relating to the migrant workers and hence their inputs to deal with migrant workers’ issues will be relevant and even crucial. This will also be an appropriate forum to discuss issues arising out of staggered lift of lockdown and plan appropriate sectoral strategies (say the issues and concerns relating to the transport and the construction sectors may be different from those of the manufacturing sector).
The post-lockdown will need to maintain ‘social distancing principle’ and hence at the industry or the firm levels, management will have to consult with the trade unions/workers’ bodies to decide deployment and recall of workers while uncompromisingly implementing the social distancing and other health directives which will lead to orderly resumption of work and also deal with the issues concerning workers who may be called for work at a later stage. Trade unions and industry need to work together as social partners to deal with the crisis as much as the government should consider them as vital stakeholders. Put simply, joint consultations will help smooth and caring workplace revival which will at once take care of business imperatives and workers’ welfare. Taking the Social Dialogue principle forward the Prime Minister should nominate representatives of trade unions in the Board of Trustees and/or the Advisory Board relating to PM-CARES Fund.