Seeking sops to pay wages to workers, export industry representatives have told the government that if it does not find a way soon to re-open manufacturing units under lockdown, Indian products will lose their international markets to China, which has resumed production post the coronavirus outbreak.
During an interaction on Monday with Union Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, exporters said if India does not begin shipments at this juncture, its export market will be taken over by Chinese products. They cited the example of certain pharmaceuticals exports which have been banned in the wake of the pandemic. They said if they were not allowed to export medicines soon, the global markets would be taken over by China.
“We conveyed that the problem is once you cede the ground to any country, particularly China, it is very, very difficult to get back,” Ajay Sahai, Director General of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations, told The Indian Express.
“That’s why the demand that let us at least start production with some 50 per cent manpower or even less to enable social distancing and health and sanitation norms, so that the industry is also not hard hit,” he said.
The industry players demanded resumption of “limited movement of people” on the lines of goods movement permitted by the government last week. They said employees involved in essential work such as processing of salaries and payments of bills should be allowed to go to factories.
At the meeting, exporters sought financial sops to pay wages, citing liquidity crunch with businesses being hit by the outbreak.
One proposal conveyed was to exempt the industry for the time being from statutory payments like ESI contribution — a percentage of the wages are parked in the scheme meant for social security of workers. Or, removing the cap of Rs 15,000-a-month salary for EPF contributions — the government has announced that it will pay the monthly contribution of both the employee and employer under the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) for workers earning below Rs 15,000 a month in establishments which have up to 100 employees.
Yet another option conveyed was a straight-up package in which a certain percentage of the wage bill will be borne by the government.
“At a point, there will be a position that nobody can be paid,” said Shyamal Ghosh, Chairman of the Telecom Equipment and Services Export Promotion Council. The Council Co-Chairman attended the meeting but Ghosh told The Indian Express what was conveyed to the government. “If your inflow doesn’t come in by meeting the order, there will be a problem. And in this economic situation, unless easy money comes in, it becomes difficult to meet the wage bill also.”
Those who attended the meeting said the government side did not offer any commitment but took down the demands and suggestions. “The Minister was very keen that Indian industry gets back to being normal as soon as possible,” Sahai said.
Many asked the government to clear old dues — telecom equipment manufacturers said around Rs 2,000 crore is due to them from PSUs like BSNL and MTNL.
“Telecom is an essential service and the line of production has to be maintained. Unless production is maintained, you can’t engage the full labour force. And for maintaining production, first, the dues have to be cleared and second, easy working capital should be there,” Ghosh said.
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