On 25th March 2020, Many across the country who considered themselves to be nothing more than small business owners or service providers were thrust into the role of essential service providers. Grocery stores, fruit and vegetable sellers, bank employees, dairy production and distribution-related workers, etc. were suddenly classified as critical services and were not only given an exemption from the lockdown but were required to come to work.
The Ministry of Home Affairs of India set out guidelines on penalizing absentee employees of businesses that had been deemed essential services; they recently announced a reminder to businesses to penalize absentee workers with measures including pay cuts and suspensions.
On the other hand, to motivate workers and show our support, the government urged people to stand by their doors or balconies one day and clap for the workers for a few minutes. This also prompted people to light diyas and blacking out entire areas in appreciation of people working at the forefront of this pandemic. While these actions help show solidarity among the populace and motivate some of the workers to work diligently, most people need more than a diya and clapping for some minutes to ensure their well being.
As Maharashtra state went into lockdown, the government of Maharashtra issued guidelines for essential services to follow as they continued work during the lockdown. Among these, only one guideline looked at the scenario of an employee getting infected by the virus. The government instructed that employers should obtain and maintain group health insurance for their employees.
As far as protection for essential workers was concerned, the government largely bypassed taking direct actions in favor of releasing guidelines for employers and service providers. However, not all sections of the government have been resorting to this strategy. The postal service of India recently announced a 10 Lakh rupee compensation to the spouse or children of any employee who succumbed to the pandemic.
However, few sectors have made similar provisions to ensure the safety of employees and to ensure the financial well being of the people dependent on these people. One of the measures which have been advocated for the people who are currently working in these sectors is known as hazard pay.
Hazard pay is generally extra pay given to people working in dangerous situations. Given the current situation, many have argued for instituting a hazard pay for these people. Usually, the hazard pay legislature also ensures that the employer provides insurance, both life and health. This also enables employers to be sued for not providing the provisions as mentioned earlier.
Essential service providers are a vital cog in the mechanisms which enable nations to function. In a world where most are forced to stay at home, they have become ever so more important, which means that more comprehensive legislation is needed to make sure that these people are safe.
While no one solution is perfect, that cannot be an excuse to implement none. It is time we start looking out for these people because, for the past few months, they have been looking out for us.