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Covid-19 Crisis and Then after: Role of Social Dialogue

8th April, 2020

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. In fact, the "ILO Monitor 2nd edition: COVID-19 and the World of Work" (April 7, 2020) talks of four pillars of policy response and Social Dialogue figures amongst them. Social dialogue could involve both tripartite consultations and discussions between the representatives of the government (Central or the State), representatives of employers' organizations and of trade unions at the macro level and bipartite discussions between management and trade unions (collective bargaining) to a) help the government to disseminate the relief measures and the dire need for maintaining Covid-19 hygiene such as social distancing, etc. b) secure information on the impact of Covid-19 on the world of work and the compliance with the government's advisory regarding non-termination of employment and government order relating to payment of wages and the reasons for non-compliance c) assess the reach of the relief measures and seek the concerns of the Industry and Trade Unions, d) the role that trade unions and employers' organizations could play in softening the shocks caused by Covid-19, e) seek suggestions to improve upon the relief packages, f) help trace the migrant workers and taking care of their welfare, g) take their suggestions regarding the plan for lifting of the lockdown and seeking their assistance in smooth return to normalcy. Taking the Social Dialogue principle forward the Prime Minister must seriously consider nominating representatives of trade unions and the employers' organizations in the Board of Trustees and/or the Advisory Board relating to PM-CARES Fund.

At the firm level, management and trade unions can discuss the issues concerning employment, wages and social security and depending on the economic capacity of the employers can talk of concessions such as reduced pay or considering the period to be lay-off period and accept 50% pay in lieu of statutory full pay and pay cuts on the part of highly paid management officials, health issues concerning the maintenance staff, etc. during the Covid-19 lockdown period. Bipartite social dialogue will be essential in planning and executing staggered or universal lifting of lockdown as it will be well-nigh impossible to provide employment to all the workers immediately. Put simply, joint consultations will help smooth and caring workplace revival which will at once take care of business imperatives and workers' welfare.

Prof. K.R. Shyam Sundar,
HRM Area

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