During the last few days, industry representatives have had meetings with key government functionaries, where they have proposed multiple ways to resume economic activity, although the Centre is yet to take a final call on ending the lockdown, which has seen factories producing “non-essentials” shut down.
After all, the industry is worried over losing revenue, resulting in widespread job losses and debt servicing problems, piling pressure on banks. “We can resume in a graded manner, starting with green zones, where there are few or no cases, provided the industry follows a strict protocol,” said CII director general Chandrajit Banerjee. Ficci has suggested that the lockdown should be extended by seven days in areas with Covid-19 cases, while allowing all sectors to operate in areas where there are no cases.
Logistics, availability of labour top concerns
When the lockdown started, a key concern for businesses was logistics. “We got multiple queries on trucks being stopped and how to get raw material moving. While rubber bands and plastic bottles are not essentials, they are key to supplying masks and hand sanitisers. All that has been sorted out now,” said Invest India managing director and CEO Deepak Bagla.
The government’s investment promotion agency is running a platform for businesses to present the difficulties that they are encountering, and it is trying to address them. While logistics remains the top concern, labour availability and liquidity are top-of-the-mind items for companies as they eagerly watch PM’s meeting with chief ministers on Saturday.
A large chunk of migrant workers has returned home and, hiring agencies said, many are unlikely to return immediately. Even for continuous process plants such pharmaceuticals, there are not enough workers coming in, said an industry official. Another executive said that there are no truckers to unload materials, creating logistic hurdles.
“A lot of businesses depend on migrant workers. So, we are trying to figure out how some of the plants would gradually begin operations,” said RPG Enterprises chairman Harsh Goenka.
Lobby group Ficci has suggested that all sectors should be allowed to operate in areas where there is little migration, with goods and manpower being allowed to move freely but focus on local procurement. Government officials suggested the industry should look at the option of providing accommodation around plants too, and dormitories are an area that companies are open to look at.
Industry chambers have also circulated best practices that members can follow. For instance, Ficci has suggested that healthy workers in the 22-39 year age group should be allowed into plants first, while CII has proposed that only those under 65 years should be hired. There are a host of other suggestions — from operating plants with fewer shifts and longer breaks between shifts to staggered lunch breaks. Testing and health facilities are proposed to be beefed up, while providing transport to workers.
“The first few days will be spent training our members on the new SOPs as well as ensuring safe materials and working environment for them to work in. We will also be practising social distancing at the plant, making it mandatory to use face masks and undergo thermal scanning for everyone and use of sanitisers to maintain a healthy environment at work,” said Naveen Soni, senior vice-president (sales and service), Toyota Kirloskar Motor.
With businesses losing revenue and worried about wage payment and debt servicing, companies such as JSW Steel are already gearing up to resume operations at all locations from April 15.
TCS said the “resumption of operations at our offices will depend on the directives issued by the government, local authorities as well as our assessment of the situation.”