Home Economy Ola-Uber lay off employees in times of Covid-19

Ola-Uber lay off employees in times of Covid-19

Be it a billionaire or a shop owner, employment is the means of sustenance for human beings. Even our own constitution recognizes and safeguards the idea of ensuring people aren’t discriminated against while seeking employment at a public workplace. But such lay offs have created fear, uncertainty and chaos...

A pandemic is an unforeseeable event; the nature of every pandemic varies and it becomes an arduous task for everyone, including the authorities to tackle the problem. As the current situation of COVID-19 is taking a toll on everyone’s way of living, new areas of problems are emerging almost every single day.

The outbreak

COVID-19, as the reports suggest, is a virus that broke out in the city of Wuhan, in China in the latter half 2019, and since then, it has been spreading across the whole world infecting thousands of people every day. The outbreak of this virus led to almost sterilization of the world economy; educational institutions, trade, markets, business corporations, etc., had to shut down.

Countries worldwide have gone to entire or partial lockdown for some time now. We do not yet have a fixed solution to this problem, but the entire mankind is suffering. The secretary-general of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres has declared this crisis as a pandemic, while letting the world know how it is affecting millions across the world every single day.

Sustenance of humans

Employment is the means of sustenance for any human being, be it a billionaire or a shop owner. Even our very own constitution recognizes and safeguards the idea of ensuring people aren’t discriminated against while seeking employment at a public workplace.

The fundamental constitution of a government or any other public company differs from that of a private company; this also entails different redressal mechanisms available at the disposal of the employees for grievance filing. On that very note, if we ponder upon the situation of the workplace situation for an employee belonging to a private organization, we find staggering results!

Trapped at home

The dawn of COVID-19 pandemic has debilitated every sector in economies across the globe. People belonging to different industries, starting from workers to students, have been forced against their will to be trapped in homes, making the whole situation seem like a dungeon of hell. The worst affected during these times are the ones whose jobs are at stake, especially the ones without secured employment.

The recent news about several employees being laid off from some of the fastest growing start-ups, OLA and UBER industries, is heart-wrenching. Why is there a sudden lay off of workers across private companies, including OLA& UBER?  And, to what extent are these decisions legal? Let us glance over a few rights that most employees aren’t aware of during their tenure of employment, in order to reach plausible answers for the aforementioned questions.

Employment Rights of the workers at Private Organizations

  1. An Employment Agreement is the first important thing an employee is required to sign soon after securing the job. It essentially lays down the relationship between the employer and the employee during the employee’s work tenure. It also lays down the rights and obligations and other information relating to compensation, duration of work, etc. Often these agreements do contain clauses that indicate which mode to refer to incase a dispute arises.
  2. The Maternity Benefit Act is meant for women who are impregnated during their employment and lays down what rules cover for their prior and post-child-delivery. The Central Government provides for paternal paid leaves too, but this is discretionary when it comes to private companies.
  3. The requirement of depositing the Provident Fund is important for industries. This is a part of the salary that the employer needs to deposit after deducting it from his and his employee’s salary. There is a limit as to when and how much can the amount be withdrawn. Organizations with more than 20 employees are required to legally file with the Employment Provident Fund Organization [EPFO].
  4. Receiving Gratuity is guaranteed by the Payment of Gratuity Act 1972, requires a lump sum amount to be paid to an employee who has worked for at least 5 years; it’s like a reward that keeps increasing with the increase in employment years, and gets forfeited upon getting dismissed due to any unfair activity.
  5. Entitlement to timely and fair salary is important because article 39(d) of the Constitution of India requires equal pay for equal work; subsequently, the Equal Remuneration Act and the Payment of Wages Act also aim toward the fair and timely payment of employees as per their agreements, failure of which entitles the workers to file a civil suit against the employer.
  6. Appropriate working hours is a must for employees. The Factories Act provides and the Shop and Establishment Acts (states’ wise) require “an adult worker shall work over 9 hours per day or 48 hours per week and overtime shall be double the regular wages. A female worker can work from 6 am to 7 pm. This can be relaxed to 9.30 pm upon explicit permission, and payment for overtime and safe transportation facility should be provided too. Apart from this weekly holiday, half an hour break and no more than 12 hours of work on any given day are mandated.”
  7. Right to Leaves is a part of employment that every employee has an entitlement to; they ought to receive casual leaves, privilege leaves, sick leaves, and other leaves. The employees ought to receive 12 days’ leave out of the 240 working days at least. This does include that employees have the privilege to get leaves in cases of emergencies.
  8. Prevention of Sexual Harassment is one of the most pertinent issues in the workplace. Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 aims to protect the women against sexual harassment at a workplace along with the Vishaka Guidelines that require a complaint cell to be set up in a workplace for registering grievances. Further, the Indian Penal Code also lays down punishment up to three years imprisonment, with or without fine, for sexual harassment at the workplace.

Current scenario of Ola & Uber employees

With the outbreak of a pandemic, the Indian Government has sanctioned restrictions on travel and commerce across the states; similar step has been taken by other governments across the globe. OLA is an Indian-based ride-sharing cab, while UBER is an American multinational company that provides ride-sharing cabs.  

The pandemic is a big hit for the travel industry as both of them have suffered great loss due to restrictions on the mobility of people. As a result, the CEO of UBER had recently announced for laying off more than 3000 workers, stating that there is a cut in the number of jobs available due to economic losses suffered by the company. The same has been stated by the OLA Company which recently decided to lay off more around 17% of its employees.

The situation isn’t as simple as it seems to. It is quite evident that with the economy going down, industries have been suffering, and most of the private companies have been laying off workers on the pretext of ‘loss in business”. Some of the intricacies involved in the process revolve around the rights of the employees.

For instance, a law suit was filed in California claiming that UBER has misrepresented its employees as ‘Gig contractors’, meaning independent contractors; in the case of OLA,  workers have been protesting for reimbursement of their unpaid salaries. There are cries all over the country and across the globe because most of the workers do not have a secured job. Further, most of the workforce isn’t aware of the contractual terms that it once entered into, prepared by the companies.

Solution

Labours are some of the most vulnerable people in our society because the labour industry is lacking legal backup. Enforcement of the labour laws is important, but their susceptibility can be traced back to the mindset that has engulfed the lawyers in it- ‘Labour industry is boring’. We, the observers, can only analyze from the facts that are presented before us, but it is the ignorant section of our society (the labours) who are the victims.

During a pandemic, or a normal day, it is the right of the workers to be protected and to ensure that they are vigilant and can fight for their claims, we need lawyers to come up and serve for the people who lack the basic understanding of what is a ‘right’. This does not imply as to who is the perpetrator, but it is in the interest of protecting the labour industry that we need this concern to be raised in the legal fraternity.

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