A new year is here and along with it comes the season of the Budget. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the budget on February 2021. Last year was all about experiments and learning. Human resources played a key role in keeping things together when remote working became the way of life — facilitating a quick switch to the new mode of working and then engaging in a host of activities to boost employee morale — amidst challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While speaking to HR professionals, it became abundantly clear that reskilling and upskilling are the buzzwords. They have always been an important aspect in this constantly changing tech age, but the pandemic has fast-forwarded several needs, which were earlier expected to be realised only after a few years. The antipathy towards China, has also made corporations look inwards for their infrastructure needs, which could be cashed in to not just boost the economy but create jobs as well.
Anil Mohanty, head – HR, Medikabazaar
Insurance and medical benefits
Ravi Mishra, senior vice president – HR, global epoxy business, believes that the insurance coverage should extend to contract workers as well. “Most companies have Rs 1 lakh to 2 lakh cover for contract workers or whichever area is covered by ESIS scheme. However, workmen or supervisors cannot afford the cost areas that are not covered by the scheme. Many places do not offer any insurance cover. They have a namesake insurance policy of not more than Rs. 1 and half lakh. That amount covers absolutely nothing. They should have a fair coverage and ensure that 50 per cent of the premium towards this should be borne by the company and the rest by the Government authorities.”
Mishra further elaborates that the workmen’s compensation in the event of death or injury, partially or fully, does not offer any medical benefit. Hospitals affiliated to ESIS have 4.5 per cent company contribution and 1.5 per cent contribution from the employee’s side. “This is viable for the organisations and also ensures the employees and their parents receive medical benefits. Therefore, similar policies should be extended to other workers in tier-2 or tier-3 cities. The pandemic highlighted the challenges faced by people in the urban areas and bigger cities, but the fact remains that smaller cities seen worse,” Mishra points out.
Skilling, upskilling, reskilling
In the European countries, companies give tax benefits if the organisation is spending on learning and development. “This way, the companies grow and so do the employees. Today, if I hire an engineer from a college, and do not invest in his upskilling in the next five years, he will become irrelevant in terms of skills. It should be a tax-free element for the employees and employers, whatever the case maybe,” Mishra lists out.
Lalit Kar, Sr. VP & head – HR, Reliance Digital
As per the 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report, Udemy mentions unemployment was as high as 7.8 per cent in November 2020, while youth unemployment surpassed 20 per cent. However, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojna was aimed at training only 10 million by 2020, when official estimates hint that there are nearly 300 million youngsters who need upskilling. As if that gap wasn’t enough, the upsurge in acquiring digital skills to survive during the pandemic-induced remote working has exaggerated this need further. This is one area that the Government should look into feels Ranjith Menon, SVP- HR, Hinduja Global Solutions.
“Upskilling and reskilling of the existing workforce is really important. There has been a lot of change in the way we operate and do business post COVID. It’s quite clear that skill gap from education to corporate remains quite huge. We aren’t much focused on vocational training as such. In Europe, apprenticeship is extremely important. It actually helps the young workforce to bridge the gap between what they learn and what is required for a job. This gap is now increasing with the AI-driven work culture setting in. Youth unemployment is close to 20 per cent and that’s alarming. Adequate allocation for upskilling and reskilling could be looked into,” Menon says.
In the post-COVID context as well, Menon’s suggestion makes sense because as per the Udemy report, an estimated 14 per cent of the workforce was upskilled in 2019 against 38 per cent in 2020. It is pretty clear that in the last year, many corporations and employees themselves took initiative to broaden their skill knowledge to become more future fit.
Paramjit Nayyar, CHRO, Bharti AXA, General insurance
“If one looks at some European or North American countries, even in the counties the government gives certain tax grants if they create jobs in those areas. It’s a huge incentive for the organisation to not move from there,” Menon informs. So according to him, the questions that need to be answered here are, ‘Will there be any labour reforms to maintain a hybrid workforce?’ or ‘How will it be seen in the eyes of the law?’
4 Es – employment, employability, ease of business, exemption
Paramjit Nayyar, CHRO, Bharti AXA, General insurance, has summarised his expectations with four ‘E’s. “First is Employment. In a situation where we are just about getting over the pandemic and vaccination coming in, many people have lost jobs. Now how can the government generate employment to make the economy prosper? Next comes Employability. They need to also help people become employable. Just an intent to work is not enough, one needs to have skills to do that job. Third is Ease of doing business. Corporations do not want to go to China now. How does one get this lion’s share of business diverted to India? Only by setting up plants in India and keeping the processes simple. The Government has to think of ways to ease out the system of getting licenses in a manner comfortable for the corporations setting up businesses, so that they get attracted to India. Last but not the least is, Exemption. We are happy tax players but at the same time, 35 to 40 per cent is not sustainable. If such an amount of money goes into taxes, they lose the charm of working itself. How can the Government make tax planning friendly for employees? There need to be avenues for better tax planning.”
Ravi Mishra, senior vice president – HR, Global Epoxy Business
Vaccination and ‘Make in India’
Post the various unlock measures, businesses slowly and steadily reverted to pre-COVID levels. This even prompted many organisations to announce incentives and bonuses during the festive period. But that had very little influence on employment growth. It didn’t rise with the recovery. Now, with the beginning of the vaccination drive, this could change. Lalit Kar, vice president & head, HR, Reliance Retail, believes the slow growth of employment can be equated with the slow recovery of the service sector. “My first wish is to vaccinate every Indian, funded completely by the Government. That will assuage the fear: malls, hotels and tourism will kick off and will help the service sector bounce back, improving the employment levels. Moreover, to build an Atmanirbhar Bharat, we need to accelerate skill building in some targeted and specific skills. For instance, out of around 67 billion dollars of annual import from China in 2019, the share of electronics was around 55 billion dollars. I hope the Finance Minister
makes the budget outlay for building electronics parks, which will promote a complete eco-system of component and chipset manufacturers. This will also encourage investment in accelerated skill building so that global manufacturers, such as Apple and Qualcomm can start producing from India.”
Ranjith Menon, SVP- HR, Hinduja Global Solutions.
Tax relief is one other aspect that HR experts are looking forward to with the Union Budget and the Government has taken initiatives in this regard. It has brought down the corporate tax and introduced changes in the personal income tax slabs. However, it seems there is still more scope.
Anil Mohanty, head – HR, Medikabazaar, says, “Income tax slabs need to be relooked at to reduce the tax burden on the salaried class, which in turn, helps the economy by increasing purchasing power. Relaxation of tax from ESOPs vesting and some special benefits / income tax relaxation for people working in metros, such as Mumbai can also be considered.”
It will be wrong to call it a wishlist as every demand or ask that the HR professionals spoke about is rational and based on a year of extreme crisis, panic and experimentation — 2020. How many of these expectations will be fulfilled by the Government, still remains to be seen.