KR Shyam Sundar is Professor of Human Resources Management at XLRI-Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur. He has to his credit several books on industrial relations and labor economics. He has also conducted various research projects for the International Labor Organization and the European Union. In an interaction, he spoke about his latest book – Impact of Covid-19, Reforms and Poor Governance on Labor Rights in India. Excerpts:
Q: How does Covid-19 affect jobs and the employment scenario?
A: The supply of labor is dropping drastically due to the loss of lives in the pandemic. On the other hand, it drove unemployment rates up, not even during the financial crisis of 2009. Then, workers on the fringes – such as those with contractual, casual and daily wage rates – would easily be. disposed of with the least prospect of re-employment. All of this can result in lost income, spending savings, and pledging or selling assets between people. And worse, increased borrowing at usurious interest rates. More importantly, the emotional and physical well-being of workers – especially those who work from home or in coworking spaces – would be of great concern.
Q: How will the pandemic impact new engineering and management hires?
A: Unless there is a productive interface between engineering schools and industry, the underemployment of engineers would intensify. This will lead to economic inefficiencies, as families spend large sums on educating their children – sometimes taking out loans – but these children do not get decent jobs. As a result, family incomes decrease and there is a substantial waste of family incomes as well as human resources. There have already been significant changes in the employment preferences of executives, such as jobs in the consulting and digital sectors. Jobs at the factory level are shifting to banking and finance. Human resources would be more likely to perform dual functions in technology-driven workspaces, developing metrics and strategies to reduce the human cost of doing business and restructuring HR jobs. Employees and workers are also likely to form or join unions to demand job security and social safety nets. They would also focus on employability, requalification and seek flexible working hours, multi-employer employment options as in the odd-job economy. Finally, the role of industry in the field of education will have to be reinvented to create and perpetuate a productive interface and allow the creation of employable people in engineering and management. Industry-sponsored educational institutions could be a successful new model of education in the future.
Q: Many employees are forced to work from home (WFH) during the pandemic. Do you think this will be the future of work in the post-pandemic world?
A: In a sense, the pandemic has created a borderless economy blurring the lines between “living” and “working” spaces. While the factory economy has drawn people away from their homes to centralized and remote workplaces, the digital economy allows for the mixing of work and home spaces. WFH or hybrid work could be of interest to many organizations. However, the negative aspects of these working methods such as fatigue, the absence of a human network, always on the probabilities of work, etc. could encourage rethinking workspaces. I have a basic legal problem with the WFH. Normally, an employee, regardless of their status, would enter a “legally permitted workspace” – therefore, someone cannot simply enter it. However, the home as a workspace is taken for granted by the organization concerned and the employees as well. The negative implications and possible loss of privacy, freedom of activities (especially for children), overcrowding of too many digital activities (spouse working online, children online, etc. ) in cities with limited spaces like Mumbai, the lack of care for the elderly, possible increase in violence and harassment at home by employees are there. Aside from, employee productivity could possibly be an ‘inverted U’, mainly due to fatigue and lack of human relations element. However, the WFH has some compelling positive aspects – for example, less load on public transport, decongestion of traffic and reallocation of real estate. I would not recommend this option primarily because work cannot and should not encroach upon and crowd out non-work aspects and possible co-optation of actors such as family members into legal workspaces.
Q: Don’t you think the future scenario will encourage a “hire and fire” culture?
A: Covid-19 has shown the very dark side of even regular employment contracts, i.e. the prospects of paying workers full or partial compensation – meaning ’empty exit’ within a strict economic rational framework, by setting aside for the moment positive and normative human relations. elements. So I foresee the following labor market trends on the demand side. First, employers are more likely to offer flexible employment contracts, introduce zero-hour contracts on a larger scale, restructure compensation plans subject to the Salary Code (and its amendments), outsource many functions internal work, to explore innovative work reorganization exercises such as co-workspaces, hybrid model, etc. The objectives of these exercises are to reduce or weaken the influence of unions, weaken collective bargaining in industrial fields, flexible teams in HR fields and digital divides among employees in the so-called organized sector. Contract workers, fixed-term workers, trainees, temporary workers and all forms of flexi-employment contracts will dominate in all segments of the so-called organized sector. Lifetime employment will be a privilege, if not a rare prospect, which will further balkanize the labor market and create deep economic divisions and inequalities with serious social, economic and even political implications. Simply put, no job would be secure in a risky or disruptive world of work.
The lack of a comprehensive and easily accessible unemployment benefit system covering both organized and non-unionized workers is a major flaw in the social security code, as I explained in my recently published book.
Q: Many companies these days, especially in the IT and service industries, often cut jobs at will. Is there no legal recourse for employees who lose their jobs?
A: The Center and some states like Tamil Nadu have long formally stated that existing labor laws such as the Trade Union Act of 1926, the Labor Disputes Act of 1947, and the Industrial Employment Act (Regulations) of 1946, among others, would be applicable to the computer sector. Judicial decisions of labor courts have confirmed this in accordance with the appropriate applicability of the relevant provisions. The legal situation remains the same in the four labor codes. In fact, unions like FITE and NDLF have filed numerous labor disputes and they are. Some commentators have called unions undesirable for export-oriented and high-demand sectors such as the information and knowledge technology sectors. Job insecurity in the service sector, such as information technology, e-commerce, and other emerging sectors, has become of greater concern than conventional sectors like mining and manufacturing. Employees must ultimately demand unions and lawsuits when opportunities for company or job mobility are lower and re-qualification costs higher.