–“Sir, I haven’t been feeling well for last few days! I need rest at least for a day.”

–“Well, you know that all the leaves including casual and medical have already been disapproved due to the covid19 pandemic. Moreover, all of our employees are working from home. What is the need of availing any leave?”

— “Sir, as I have been working with the laptop continuously for18 hours a day, I have developed a chronic headache problem. I need complete rest for a day. Then I will be O.K.”

— “What are you doing in the night? Isn’t six hours of rest in the night enough? Despite, if you want to go on leave, it is better to go for-ever. Why only for a day?”

The above cited conversion between a professor and the owner of a private university at Bhubaneswar raises certain question on the on-going Work-From-Home trend throughout the country. The present form of work model, as it appears, is not at all conducive for the interest of workers and employees.

  Work-from-home: what does it mean?

Far and wide development in the field of software and Internet technology along with the use of Android phone and laptop offers a great deal of advantage for a number of organizations during the covid19 pandemic in Odisha and outside. Those organisations have been forcing their workers and employees to do the office but from home since the days of lockdown. Whether it is an office or a software company, or an e-commerce company, or a university, or any educational institution or a business house, the work-from-home is a fait accompli. The concept is not new but it was all the more a voluntary one. In view of covid19 pandemic related promulgation of lockdown and physical distancing, the system of Work-from-home has been a felt-need and thus forcibly imposed. It has been so rigorously followed that even after the lifting of pandemic restrictions, the present model of work is being into force. It is continuing in various institutions as well as educational institutions. At present, there are numerous software forms like Zoom, Google Meet, Impartus, Realbook etc and with the help of these models, the corporate houses are quite successful in forcing their workers /employees to go for Work-from-home.

The model of work is obviously an easier and a comfortable method for the corporates and private institutions. As of now, private educational institutions are very much interested in it. They can use their employees in better way to force them to work for 12 to 18 hrs a day. These workers who are working on-line, are supposed to provide a report in every 15 to 30 minutes. To done away with the weekly holidays or any type of recognized holidays available, the present model of work is really conducive one.  Every day is a working day and every hour is a reporting time for the employees. Every organisation finds a senior most person whose work is to direct the daily work either through e-mail or WhatsApp to its employees working from home. The same person can demand the final status on of the suggested work at the end of the day and can send the letter of termination through the same medium, if the boss is not satisfied.

A new mode of exploitation:

The work-from-home is, of course, a newly developed process of exploiting workers working from home. Millions of the younger generation are going under this new form for some time, since lockdown has been announced, in corporate houses, multi-national companies and private educational institutions in the country. These youth are exploited without any resistance. However, they are working at their home for longer hours but they are facing paycuts to a considerable extent what they are told as ‘no business due to lockdown’. These workers while doing work-from-home are not given the charges of electricity, digital data, launch packet, house rent in exchange of turning the home into office. All these costs are falling under the head of the employees and that again is adding to their miseries.

Interestingly, these organisations/institutions/universities are usually maintaining a number of offices/campuses in the state. But the online work has turned their entire work into single campus.  At present, they are managing all those works of all campuses, now turned into single online-campus, by engaging single person. Earlier they were engaging a kind of six to seven persons for these works and now this has been simply reduced to one and the corona pandemic is, thus, turned into a golden opportunity for them. In practice, these institutions were maintaining various type of workers/employees  such as–office staffs , programme assistant, programme co-ordinator, office assistant, electrician, sweeper, maintenance staff, driver, laboratory assistant and so many. They had to face immediately sever pay cuts. These people had either to loose their jobs or suffer pay-cut or accustom to anything like this under no work, no pay slogan. The COVID 19 has brought the employers an immense opportunity to get rid of these people. The situation is getting complicated day by day. In the long run those posts, if this work-from-home continues, are going to be either less in number or redundant. This would further increase the unemployment crisis in our society.

No specific rules and regulations in the country:

Since the digitalisation, the space between a man’s working place and the private-cum-social life is gradually shrinking. It is now the time to think over. In 2004, the Supreme Court of France had a verdict to this effect that no one can be punished/misbehaved for not responding to any message or e-mail from the employer beyond his/her office hours. Thus, it takes the shape of a new sort of right— Right to Disconnect. It has then far and widely been acclaimed.

The Human Rights wing of the UNO has already incorporated the same in their declaration (Art 24). In 2017, the ILO has also declared it as legitimate one. To face the newly developed digitalised world, a number of countries have already come out with the specific law to protect the rights of the workers/employees. France, Italy, Germany, Japan and Philippines have such laws to fix working hours, holidays, providing incentives etc to face the situation. The new law of Italy (Agreement on Aggression) has proposed a year’s jail punishment if any employer harasses his/her worker after his/her office hour. Japan government has announced more holidays for it etc.

Indian government is way behind of protecting rights of workers. In 2018, SupriaSule of the INC in the Parliament only introduced a private bill in this respect. But the ruling BJP party did not take any interest in it. The party has not taken any steps suo motto. During the period of pandemic, the Prime Minister had a discussion with the IBM (International Business Machines) about work-from-home. Though he assured the IBM authority that the adequate infrastructure and 24 hrs internet connection would be provided to this effect but he simply forgot the overall interest of the workers. The honourable prime minister did not remind them Right to Disconnect as a right of the workers.

Slow down–an excuse:

The slowing down of economy is practically a pre-COVID 19 process. The economy of the country has been reeling for last 7 to 8 years and COVID 19 has accelerated the process further. The unemployment, poverty, uncertainty in job and above all the mental agony have been increased largely. The capitalists in the country are realising that they are now in deep crisis. Due to this, they are becoming opportunists to take the advantage of the pandemic. As there is no social security measures for the workers and employees of the country, the corporate houses and the private universities are forcing their workers/employees to receive less pay also.If they defy, the hire and fire is always with them.

The development of new technology is obviously providing further scope of investment but at the same time, it also brings more exploitation, unemployment, uncertainty in life, health crisis and overall poverty. Here comes the role of the state. To protect these workers, the government should come forward to formulate law protecting the rights to disconnect because these workers of this digital field are also citizens of the country. But the Union Government is now engaged in the opposite direction. There is no intention or initiation to regulate the process of work-from-home rather they are busy in scrapping the existing labour laws in favour of the employers. As a result, the workers have been pushed to the wall. A fight back is inevitable as it is blatant violation of Democratic Rights of the workers as well as the citizens of this country.

Conclusion:

Since the great depression of 1930s, it has been observed that the concentration of wealth is also the trend whereas the workers face unemployment, poverty and the unending miseries. The same can also be seen during the COVID 19 pandemic. Indian economy is declining by almost 24 percent but the accumulated wealth of Mukesh Ambany has been increased by 35 percent. All democratic organisations, trade unions, peasant organisations and all the democracy-loving citizens of the country must understand the complexity of the situation. It is not the period to be remain silent. It is the time to fight-back. Otherwise the capitalists will rule the roost. It is not only a tussle between the workers and the capital but also a contradiction of the society. The common people including workers have to be united; otherwise an exploitation free society will remain a dream!

Write to: The president, GASS, Odisha.  Email: gassbhubaneswara@gmail.com


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