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Sansad TV: Perspective- Work from Home Rules

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Introduction:

Work from Home – which became a common feature for almost everyone during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, is here to stay. The Department of Commerce has notified an amendment to the 2006 Special Economic Zone rules, allowing up to 50 percent of total employees of IT and IT-enabled Services to work from home. The new rules came after there were calls from the industry to make a provision for a countrywide uniform WFH policy for all Special Economic Zones. Incidentally, the work from home rules come shortly after the Netherlands passed a law to establish home working as a legal right, in the process becoming one of the first countries to enshrine such flexibility in law.

New rules:

  • The government inserted a new rule — 43A (work from home) in Special Economic Zones Rules, 2006.
  • The new rules came after there were calls from the industry to make a provision for a countrywide uniform WFH policy for all Special Economic Zones (SEZs)
  • The new rule 43A provides work from home for the following category of employees of a unit in SEZ:
    • Employees of IT/ITeS SEZ units
    • Employees, who are temporarily incapacitated
    • Employees, who are traveling
    • Employees, who are working offsite
  • The notification states that WFH may be extended to maximum 50 per cent of total employees, including contractual employees of the unit.
  • The commerce ministry also added that work from home would be allowed for a period of one year.
  • However, that period could be extended for another year by the Development Commissioner (DC) of SEZs.
  • In respect of SEZ units whose employees are already working from home, the notification has provided a transition period of 90 days to seek approval.
  • The ministry also said SEZ units will provide for both equipment and secured connectivity for WFH so that employees can perform authorised operations of the units.
  • The permission to take out the equipment is co-terminus with the permission given to an employee, the ministry said.
  • The move will be highly beneficial to IT firms such as TCS or Infosys, who have units in SEZs.

Future lies in it:

  • Worldwide, remote working seems to have become the norm with most countries embracing the trend.
  • A report stated that by 2025, an estimated 70 per cent of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days a month.
  • A study shows the number of global job listings that mention remote work has nearly tripled since the onset of the pandemic, up from an average of just 2.5 per cent in January 2020 to almost 7.5 per cent in September 2021.
  • Countries like Ireland, Spain and the UK seeing the greatest increases.

Operational challenge

  • Concerns have been raised about the requirement to submit details of employees working from home.
  • Some consider it to be operationally challenging and hard to implement because it’s hard to predict which employee will be required in the office for a particular project at what specific time.

Way Forward:

  • The new model’s adoption must not be cumbersome, and companies must be given time to adjust as this notification overrides one that gave them the option of having 100 percent of employees working from home.
  • The government should not make the adoption of the new model cumbersome by seeking too many details about movement of employees, equipment or gadgets and trust the companies with their judgment on running their daily operations.
  • Else this rigmarole will run counter to the government’s claim of less government and more governance.
  • An alternative could be to extend the 100 percent flexibility which was introduced in response to the COVID-19 circumstances till the Development of Enterprise and Service Hubs (DESH) Bill is enacted.