New Delhi: In the backdrop of a pandemic and speculations about the coming of the second wave of COVID-19 infections, even as public sector companies are continuing to operate, enduring cycles of quarantine and office premise sealing, it is imperative to pause and ask what is the cost at which these PSU offices are continuing to function even at 50 percent strength? And why are they yet to take to WFH (Work from Home)? If the past examples are anything to go by, then social distancing and allowing only half of the workforce, who are healthy, to come to office hasn't really served the purpose of curbing new infections. The most convincing case in point is that of SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited), where infection spread from the Board of Directors to at least 40-45 employees.
More recently, a senior official in the CMD's office at state-run ONGC (Oil & Natural Gas Corporation) allegedly died on June 28 because of COVID-19, a source in the know of the matter told PSU Watch on the condition of anonymity. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 five days before he died and has left behind two teenage children, who have also been diagnosed positive, and a wife, who has tested negative, the source said. The death has sent a shock wave down the hierarchy at ONGC as at least 1,500 employees had been going to the Delhi-based Vasant Kunj office everyday. The death has put those who came in contact, including the top management, at risk of infection.
Since ONGC has not yet responded to a questionnaire sent by PSU Watch, there's no official word available on the total number of COVID cases at the state-run company. However, the source said that four regular employees have died so far — one in New Delhi, two in Mumbai, one in Gujarat — and a contractual employee in Mumbai. The person added that one of the ONGC doctors, who had also been found to be infected with COVID-19, is on ventilator currently.
"Even in the midst of a pandemic, crew changes are taking place between states like Delhi and Assam. And the norm of mandatory 14-day quarantine for the crew before being sent to and after being brought back from the location is not being followed, which puts a number of people at risk. The MHA guidelines are also not being followed," the source said.
PSU Watch has reached out to organisations like ONGC, Indian Oil, BPCL, SAIL, Air India, among others, but the top brass has chose to remain tight-lipped about the actual spread of the virus and have maintained that all safety protocols are being followed. None of the PSUs have revealed the number of active COVID-19 cases so far. However, multiple sources across these PSUs have claimed that infections are on the rise. Sources have also discredited the claims of the management that even basic safety norms like social distancing and wearing a mask or the 50-percent-strength rule is being followed rigorously in corporate and regional offices.
Recognising the gravity of the situation, tech giants like Google and Facebook have already told employees that those who can do their jobs remotely should plan to do so until 2021, while Amazon has said that its headquarter employees will stay home at least until October. Microsoft has also told staff that working from home will remain optional through October for most employees.
If one leaves out employees involved in field duty, why are PSUs not adapting to the new norm of WFH for the office-going workforce? What is the rationale behind asking even 50 percent of the workforce to come to office everyday at a time when it has already been established that work from home can be an option, is a question that's yet to be answered.
(PSU Watch– India's Business News centre that places the spotlight on PSUs, Bureaucracy, Defence and Public Policy is now on Telegram. Join PSU Watch Channel in your Telegram and stay updated)