New Delhi: Job losses and pay cuts have become a recurring theme in the Covid-19 pandemic — a crisis the economic impact of which is expected to be much worse than the fallout of the global financial crisis of 2008.
To curb the spread of the pandemic, the Narendra Modi government announced a nationwide lockdown beginning 25 March. The lockdown, however, lasted longer than anticipated, till the end of May. It has also been reintroduced in many districts by various state administrations, further impacting economic activity.
The crisis came as a double whammy for 24-year-old Sandeep Kumar’s seven-member family. Not only did Sandeep, an aeronautical engineer, lose his job with a company offering ground handling services at the Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, his father, an autorickshaw driver, lost his livelihood due to the nationwide lockdown.
This forced the family to open a ration shop in April — it was considered an essential service, and hence, allowed during the lockdown.
“I worked as a load control officer for a company which worked for Air France and KLM. My work was to calculate the weight and centre of gravity for the aircraft, and I was there for two years. But Covid-19 hit flight operations in March. First, I was asked to proceed on leave, and then I lost my job in April,” he said.
Now, after three months without a job, Kumar has finally managed to find another that pays less — customer service associate for a leading e-commerce firm. But this job tests his communication skills, not his engineering skills.
“The aviation industry is badly hit and will take a long time to function normally. So I couldn’t wait for a job in the aviation sector,” he said.
Others not as lucky
Kumar is one of the lucky ones, because at least he has found a job in a different sector. But 25-year-old Pranjal Gudulkar is among those who is yet to find one.
Gudulkar lost her job as a sales executive at a real estate firm in Bengaluru — real estate is among the worst-hit sectors, with potential buyers putting their plans on hold due to the prevailing uncertainty about jobs and future income.
“I lost my job in May and have not been able to find another job so far. I have to decide whether I should move back to my parents’ house in Nagpur because I won’t be able to afford the rent any longer,” she told ThePrint.
Sushil Panchal, a tyre maintenance supervisor with a private company in Indore, was asked to leave his job in July, and that brought major problems as he was the sole breadwinner for his family.
“I have six years of experience and the knowledge required to increase the life of tyres. My company, which previously employed over 5,000 people, now has only about 70 employees,” he said.
The transport industry was hit hard once the lockdown was announced and movement of trucks came to a complete halt, said Panchal. “Most of the drivers and conductors in our company have been sent on leave without pay. I was not given any notice period or severance pay. I have a family to support and don’t know how to do it anymore,” he said.
‘Situation won’t stabilise for a year’
No sector other than agriculture has remained unscathed from the impact of the pandemic, leading to the loss of skilled jobs across the manufacturing and services sectors.
Many self-employed people have also seen their businesses come to a complete standstill due to the lockdown, though many in this segment are finding their feet once again.
Staffing experts said the worst-hit sectors have been hospitality, aviation, media, entertainment and automobile component manufacturers, and companies have been left with little choice but to fire employees.
With the Indian economy headed towards one of the worst contractions it has ever seen — recovery is expected only in 2021-22 — industry experts said the employment situation may get worse in the coming months before it gets better.
Employment data released by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy does not indicate a quick return of salaried jobs either. Of the 3.5 crore salaried jobs lost in April and May, only around 39 lakh had returned by June. The numbers also show a slow recovery in salaried jobs compared to the self-employed, farmers and daily wagers.
Rituparna Chakraborty of the Indian Staffing Federation said hardly any sector is doing well in terms of employment.
“The worst hit sectors have been aviation, hospitality, real estate, construction, outdoor entertainment, media and retail lifestyle,” she said, pointing out that the employment scenario is likely to have ups and downs.
“It is unlikely that the situation will stabilise for a while. State-level lockdowns are further adding to the unpredictability. Employers who were planning to hire are rethinking. It will take around a year for things to normalise,” she said.
Some sectors like healthcare, pharma, education services, agri-related sectors and fast moving consumer goods are showing positive hiring intent, said Chakraborty, also the co-founder of Teamlease. “In spite of there being green shoots, you will see the caution playing out for a while,” she added.
Employers dealing with sackings differently
Employers’ methods of dealing with the sackings also vary, with some preferring to adequately compensate the sacked employees and end the association on a good note, while others have opted for an aggressive approach of terminating employment.
The services of Pranav Verma, a 30-year-old corporate communications executive, were terminated from a branding and communications company in Pune.
“I had joined this organisation in January. In retrospect, it seems was a big mistake. I was called by the HR saying that the conversation was about my performance in the company and they laid me off over the call saying the attitude was not right and that there was a cultural difference. I was laid off over a 15-minute call and not given a valid reason,” Verma said.
After this call, Verma was given a termination letter along with a letter of recommendation showing him in poor light. He said: “I had to call them and request them at least not to fire me. I offered to resign. After I was laid off, the company also let go several members of the creative team.”
Verma said he has applied to over 500 companies so far and is yet to hear from any of them. “After I was laid off, I had to move back to my parents’ home in Nashik. I do not wish to work in this sector anymore; I am looking for business opportunities now,” he said.
Media and advertising
The media and advertising industry has also faced a sharp financial crunch, with many companies cutting down on their advertising expenditure at a time when discretionary spending has dried up. The drying up of advertisement revenues has seen large-scale retrenchments across newspapers, online news and even the TV news industry.
Rupsha Bhadra, 24, was one of the 50 journalists with The Quint who were put on indefinite leave-without-pay in mid-April. She said: “The company was hiring till the first week of April. Nobody could have predicted a lay-off.”
Bhadra, however, was lucky that she managed to find a job with a documentary film-making company on a contractual basis.
ThePrint approached The Quint‘s HR department via email but did not receive a response.
Travel and tourism
Not only are existing employees losing their jobs, new entrants into the job market are struggling to find opportunities.
Tour operators, hotels and restaurants have also suffered a massive hit, with the pandemic bringing a complete halt to people travelling within and outside the country for leisure or business. While most big hotel chains have asked their employees to proceed on leave without pay, the smaller restaurants are asking employees to leave.
Radhika Menon, a 24-year-old hotel management graduate, has not lost her job at a big hotel chain she works for in Hyderabad, but has been surviving without a salary for the last three months.
“I am hoping things will normalise soon and I’ll start getting my monthly salary. I work with one of the best hotel chains, and unless I change my profession, I have little option but to wait it out,” she said.
D.K. Srivastava, chief policy advisor at EY, said the construction sector and travel and tourism have been the worst-hit, and the bigger problem is uncertainty about when a cure or a vaccine for the novel coronavirus will be found.
“Since both these sectors are labour intensive, many have lost their jobs. Though construction is seeing some revival, travel and tourism will be among the last sectors to revive as it will depend on easing of lockdown as well as some certainty around a vaccine or an effective drug against Covid-19,” he said.
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