COVID claims jobs

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Covid-19 seems far away from the district I live in. But deprivation has already set in. On my way home with a bag full of grocery items from the nearby kirana store (minimart), I was stopped by two masked women outside the park. One of them flashed a weak smile that disappeared as soon as she measured from my bag and body language that I was not the person she was waiting for. She asked me whether the distribution of food grains was scheduled in the park – whether they should queue up and wait. Being absolutely clueless regarding any such distribution plan and feeling a sense of remorse for carrying something these women were eagerly waiting for, I chose to suggest the adjacent house for reliable information in this regard.

I replayed her question in my head to assess her plight. Her voice did not quake with any sentiment of doom. But her face did carry a disproportionate mix of hope and worry. From her readiness to wait, it appeared she was expecting recovery and normalcy to return soon. Just like her, the entire nation was pregnant with hope of a turnaround. Except the corporate world that had already aborted it.  

Despite chanting mantras of positive mindset and chewing the motivational gum year after year, there seems to be a well-orchestrated unanimity in the prediction of business slump. Salary cut sounds a pretty neat term – quite like a bearded guy choosing to become clean-shaven and still looking dapper. Nobody seems to grudge pay cuts and there is a smile on every face if you mention it, as if it is an increment or Diwali bonus.

Weighed against the other alternative of job loss, this seems like a life-saver. While we are still a long away from finding the vaccine, it seems we have already found the cure that keeps us immune from lay-offs. Thousands of employees and workers are going to serve with renewed motivation because they have families to feed and regular debts to service. The vicious cycle continues.

It is barely a month of lockdown in India and companies are feeling the heat. They have to pay salaries when there is no cash flow. It pinches them hard. This comes as an ideal opportunity to downsize the workforce. Instead of waiting for two months to see how the situation evolves, companies have already started communicating their new human resource policies through email and phone. Seems there is no contingency fund to tide over the crisis and emergency credit lines will not meet their requirement.  

Before the Covid-19 crisis set in, I met my employers for a raise and the first draft of their script was ready. Every single line suggested they were waiting for the pandemic to blow up before they unfolded their mega plans in front of employees. It was a clear indicator that they were going to release a voluntary retrenchment scheme, or they would come up with a revised plan of salary packages.

After the 21-day lockdown ended and the extension happened, the advertising agency began its trial run on me. To be honest, I had an inkling that this exercise would begin with me. The owners communicated their decision to flatten my salary curve – slash 50% of it from next month. It was cold, insensitive, and brutal. The email exuded the same indifference. Since I was not ready to accept the new offer, I communicated my decision to quit my job in the next three months and served them my notice period.

Some friends called me to know about my job status. Did you get hit? The urban workforce hides its collective shame in this clever expression that helps salvage pride and dignity by playing the victim card — as if it was an enemy bullet that hit us while we were serving our corporate dukes in the battlefield.    

During Covid-19 times, the chutzpah to leave a job is certainly not what any employer would expect. A meek, timid acceptance would have warmed the cockles of their hearts. What I delivered was a bitter pill of gross insubordination and rebellion. I knew all their domestic clients were on board, and several of them were government clients. This was a temporary setback and the clients would resume operations after the lockdown. What was the tearing hurry then?

Imagine what happens to hordes of employees in the private sector in the coming months. People are going to suffer heart attacks, strokes and even contemplate suicide. And the organisations have no humanitarian approach or policy to address such a major problem. If they do not wish to utilise the resources acquired over the years of operations for the benefit of employees, it shows their rank opportunism and insensitive disposition in such trying times. 

Most of the companies operating in India have not existed since 1971. The corporate boom is a fairly recent phenomenon that arrived after liberalization was introduced in 1991. They have not seen wars or famines during their lifetime. All they are busy doing is axe, axe, and axe. As if jobs are like overgrown branches that need to be pruned from time to time.   

Corporates have a fairly typical mindset: expand hiring processes when business grows and contract when business shrinks. Remember the faces of those animals that perceive the slightest danger and curl up for protection – corporates are like that. Unreliable, fair-weather friends you can go on a date with provided you carry an umbrella or a raincoat of your own. When it starts pouring suddenly, do not expect them to take you under their umbrella.

Covid-19 crisis is yet another eye-opener that reveals the real predatory nature of corporate entities. Sadly, this realisation will soon be forgotten as the corporate juggernaut resumes its roll.   

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel. 

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