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india news: Difficult to ease the lockdown through a phased exit plan: India Inc

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Mumbai | Kolkata: The government’s plan to ease the lockdown through a phased exit plan is fraught with challenges and difficult to implement, senior executives from manufacturing companies told ET.

With the industry department recommending opening at least 16 manufacturing segments to get the wheels of the economy going, some companies are likely to be given permission to start partial operations soon. Indications are that production will start with a single shift with complete emphasis on the safety and health of the workers.

However, HR managers are a worried lot as they may face practical challenges, because plants may not be fully equipped to provide infrastructural facilities. This would primarily involve transport and boarding/lodging for the workers who may have to stay over at the plant premises if the rules so demand. What is also worrying HR heads is the task to maintain social distancing for these workers, an HR executive said.

While agreeing that workers should not be allowed to use public transportation, Maruti Suzuki chairman RC Bhargava said lodging more than 20,000 workers of the company was absolutely impossible in the current set up. Bhargava, however, said a final decision on this would be taken only when the guidelines come into effect.

TVS Motor chairman Venu Srinivasan said to provide for lodging 5,000 employees would be difficult. Instead, companies can provide other amenities. “In the current locker system, the changing rooms are too close to each other. What we can do is maintain social distancing and give the workers transportation facility on our buses which are sanitised regularly. In addition, normal working hours for the plant workers can be reduced,” he said.

“We need to start the factory in a small way, which will help to get the wheels moving. It will take a week to crank up the machines. Only by end-May can we have normal production,” Srinivasan added.

What is also giving a headache to automakers is that their production is labour-intensive at most plants, involving a minimum number of workers to complete one task. Companies are drawing up comprehensive manuals for resumption of work. These are largely reflective of social distancing, sanitisation and transportation, experts said.

“Lodging is not possible even if 25% of the plant workforce is allowed as it’s a huge number for us,” said Rajeshwar Tripathi, the chief HR officer at Mahindra & Mahindra.

Migrant workers:
There is also the challenge of getting the workers to return from their hometowns. “A good amount of migrant workers have moved out. Planning out logistics and transportation to get them back for a resumption is a challenge. We still don’t have answers for it,” Kalyani Steels managing director RK Goyal said. “There are so many infrastructure changes that need to be adopted and some need to be disabled; like, we cannot use the biometrics installed in the factory premises. We are looking at increasing bus services as they cannot be congested,” Goyal added.

There are other challenges as well. Truckers, a crucial asset for the manufacturing companies, need to get their act together.

“Our resumption is dependent on other players like the truck runners for logistics. Even though it was allowed by the government, practically it isn’t running. Our material is stuck at the port. So, for a phased return, all these systems need to work,” Goyal said.

Also, when the lockdown is lifted it has to be synchronised with the rest, said manufacturers.

“Steel plants and industrial units which have their own residential complexes and colonies will be comfortable in the opening up period,” Jindal Steel & Power managing director VR Sharma said. “However, apart from large units, MSMEs who are major users of steel in the vicinity of the plant must also be allowed to operate,” he added.

Also, opening of ‘loha mandis’ and allowing entry of trucks on an ‘odd-even’ basis will facilitate steel plant operations once lockdown restrictions are eased, according to companies.

Steel townships better placed:

“I guess in steel townships like Jamshedpur, Bokaro, Bhilai or Durgapur it may be relatively easier to get adequate workforce on the shop floor,”a steel industry expert said. Steel Authority of India chairman Anil Chaudhary said: “We are producing semi-finished steel items (semis) by maintaining minimum temperature to keep furnaces and coke ovens running. These semis can be value-added as soon as we decide to revive and ramp up production full throttle in the post lockdown period.”

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