Manufacturing firms are reopening factories in a completely new landscape, and in order to recover now and succeed in a world beyond COVID-19, firms will need to address the various physical and mental challenges created by this pandemic.
To best contribute to this worldwide effort of fighting COVID-19, we have been leveraging our research and design expertise to address some of the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry. This article presents 3 of the ways in which we are engaging with our industry and research partners to tackle key issues and help firms adapt to this new landscape.
In partnership with ID-insight, we conducted phone surveys in April 2020 with 560 female migrant employees (of garment factories) to understand how their financial and remittance behaviors were affected in wake of the pandemic. Additionally, we inquired how migrant workers dealt with stress levels, financial constraints and food shortages.
The sample primarily comprises young (average 23 years old), single, female migrants, mostly from Odisha (50%), Jharkhand (21%), and Assam (11%), currently residing in hostels. All are formal sector workers and received their salary during the lockdown period. They have been working at Shahi on average for 1-2 years.
This data collection was in addition to our earlier study with IDinsight on promoting digital payments among female migrant factory workers through training at the workplace.
In contrast to the migrant workers employed in the informal sector who lost their jobs as a result of the lockdown, the migrant workers surveyed in our study are employed in the formal sector and received their complete salary during the lockdown period. Before the pandemic, we found that these migrant workers remitted almost half of their take home salary to their families. However, despite continuing to receive their salary, survey results have shown that the amount remitted to families has dropped significantly during this pandemic, suggesting that workers are keeping hold of their money due to anxieties around the pandemic induced economic uncertainties. These results reiterate the importance of Industry and Government policy on reducing economic anxiety in the formal sector workforce.
In May/June 2020, we plan to conduct follow-up phone surveys with the migrant workers to explore some of the mechanisms of change in remittance behavior in more detail. We will also learn more about how the dependent families are coping with decreased remittance income.
At the beginning of April 2020, we held an intensive 2 day hackathon where 18 participants from GBL and Shahi Exports were split into 3 teams. Together, they were tasked to design a blueprint on how to create an anxiety-free environment for workers in factories as operations reopen following the lockdown period. The detailed document is available for download here.
The following recommendations and insights build on the standard guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of India (GOI):
It is crucial for factories to boost worker morale. In order to elicit cooperation and solidarity, the general tone of communication should be welcoming, considerate, and empathetic.
We suggest having a “Day 0” - the first day the factory reopens - reserved for acclimatization, a reduced workload, and to address the emotions and anxieties faced by workers. Some examples of communication include:
Arranging a Welcome Kit for workers on their first day back is a simple gesture which can go a long way in building confidence and positivity. A Welcome kit could include:
The illustration above maps all the potential touchpoints, or interaction zones, where COVID-19 could be spread as imagined through a day in the worker’s life.
On entry at the factory, employees should queue at socially safe distances between each other, go through temperature and basic screening, followed by hand washing and sanitizing.
In line with standard HR and compliance protocol, every Factory HR Department must maintain a log with the emergency contact details for the worker, their relatives / guardian, and address of residence.
Once inside the factory unit, there are many simple interventions which can be introduced to reduce the touchpoints and thereby reduce the risk of transmitting the virus through surface contact.
Ask workers to complete a self-declaration form on their travel history and current health status. The tone should not be threatening, and should reassure that people who choose to stay home due to health issues will not be laid-off, wherever possible.
We all know that the economic effects of COVID-19 have been unprecedented. In this context, many civil society and foundations have come together to raise funds for workers affected by the economic crises. We have listed a few organizations that are doing some incredible work in this space and also good resources for those keen to get regular updates about the garment manufacturing industry in India.
Call for Global Action: Given by ILO, IOE, and ITUC to work with governments and financial institutions to mobilise funding for the manufacturing industry to tide over their economic losses.
Fair Wear’s COVID-19 Dossier: Fair Wear is regulating updating information on the impact of lockdown ensued to contain the spread of COVID-19 on the garment industry in India and the measures proposed by several State Governments.
COVID-19 Support Fund by FDCI: The Fashion Design Council of India has started an initiative to raise funds for small fashion houses and young designers whose businesses have been impacted by the lockdown.
Image credits: Nayantara Parikh, Shahi Exports Pvt. Ltd.
Illustration credits: Siddhesh Gautam