Pay Full Wages To Workers Who Test Covid19 Positive, Maharashtra Govt Directs Factories
Manufacturing sector workers who test positive for Covid19 are entitled to full wages and sick leave and should not be sacked based on their illness, the Maharashtra government told companies under its new Covid19 guidelines on Sunday. The announcement offers relief to people who have to continue working in sectors including commerce, construction, industrial, and farming activities — in order to earn a livelihood.
“If a worker is found positive he or she would be allowed medical leave and cannot be discontinued during the absence for this reason. He or she will be entitled to full wages that he or she might have earned had he or she not contacted corona,” a statement by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Twitter noted. The sector can continue to operate as long as workers in factories and manufacturing units are regularly checked and vaccinated at the earliest, the government adds. The focus on job retention and security is notable here.
The directive is part of the new restrictions announced by the Maharashtra government to combat the worrying second Covid19 wave. The state accounts for more than half of the national cases and recorded more than 57,000 cases on Sunday for the first time since the start of the pandemic; in response, the government moved to tighten Covid19 restrictions around the functioning of restaurants, salons, gyms, private offices, and public movement. This has renewed fears amongst wage workers and small traders, who will be inordinately affected by the economic impact of another lockdown.
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The overarching sentiment of the state government is to encourage working from home wherever possible. But for industries that rely on labor, the rising cases precipitate the need to protect the interests of workers — and by extension, their families. Last year, the Maharashtra Labor Commissioner and the Union government had similarly directed employers to pay full wages to laborers despite the economic downturn.
Various studies and individual data have shown the devastating impact of the 2020 lockdown on India’s urban poor, who were pushed out of the workforce; one of them is of note here: in April last year, an estimated 12.2 crore Indians lost their jobs during the lockdown, more than three-quarters of whom comprised of wage laborers and small traders. Separate data by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy further highlighted the gendered impact: women accounted for 13.9% of the job losses in April 2020; by November, women had lost 49% of total job losses.
The current order, if implemented with sincerity, can discourage the exploitation of workers and cushion the economic blow to wage workers. The guidelines also mention that all workers should get vaccinated and carry a negative RT-PCR certificate at all times, starting April 10. The government doesn’t mention who will bear the cost of these tests, but experts say the onus should fall on owners of factories, manufacturing units, and other companies to meet these expenses. Arguably, the health and safety of workers should be a moral, and not only economic, priority. The need to mitigate the economic hardships of workers, who are veritably essential for the functioning of industries, is more urgent than ever.