Lifetime salaries and college tuition: Indian companies are compensating the families of COVID victims

May 26, 2021, 9:51 AM UTC

Some of India’s largest employers are promising to care for the families of employees who’ve died from COVID-19 as India’s second coronavirus wave continues to exert a steep death toll.

The number of daily infections in India has halved from a peak of more than 400,000 two weeks ago to 208,000, but the number of deaths hasn’t eased; India recorded 4,157 on Wednesday.

Tata Steel said on Tuesday that it will pay the salaries of employees who have died from COVID-19—along with medical and housing benefits—until what would have been their retirement age of 60.

The company also said that it will bear the expense of education for the employees’ children until their college graduation.

The Tata Group has a long history of contribution towards welfare programs. In India’s current crisis, the group has contributed more than $200 million to relief programs and purchased medical supplies, including thousands of ventilators, 3.5 million masks, and 350,000 testing kits. In the past Tata has established some of India’s leading institutions, including the Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and the National Centre for Performing Arts.

In a statement, Tata Steel urged the public to help those in need “to get through these tough times.”

Tata, which employs 750,000 workers globally, is the largest Indian employer to introduce such benefits.

Glassware company Borosil on May 2 announced that it will provide two years worth of salary to the families of employees who’ve died in the pandemic and vowed to pay for their children’s education through university.

“The [benefits are] no comparison to the scale of the loss, but hopefully will allow the family enough time to process the bereavement and reorient,” said Shreevar Kheruka, managing director at Borosil.

Earlier this month, hotel group OYO announced that it will provide eight months’ pay to families of COVID-19 victims who worked for the company as well as cover children’s education costs.

So far, 311,000 have died in India from COVID-19, 150,000 of whom have passed away in the second wave that started in March.

R.C. Bhargava, chairman of India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki and an industry veteran, said in an interview that taking care of employees was not just a humanitarian gesture, it also makes business sense. “You have to ultimately work with your people. If you don’t have the loyalty of your people, in the longer term you will pay a heavy price,” he said.

Suzuki has retained all employees despite an extended production shutdown and has set up its own hospital facilities. The company has provided medicines to employees and is trying to vaccinate employees, their families, and those at Suzuki dealerships.

“It is short-sighted to not look after your employees,” Bhargava said.

Unmesh Pawar, advisor at consulting firm KPMG, said that corporate leaders have personally witnessed how the pandemic has devastated families and colleagues. “That has fired up the compassion in Corporate India,” he said.

“Traditional companies like Tata and other industrial groups have always extended their remit of well-being not just to employees, but also to employees’ families. The only difference is it is unprecedented in the number of announcements,” he said.  

Companies requiring employees to work during the pandemic need to reassure workers that they and their families will be cared for if they fall sick, Pawar said. “At times like this, the way you treat your employees will never be forgotten by them.”

Beyond helping the families of COVID victims, some employers are aiding in the country’s COVID response.

Late last month, HDFC Bank, one of India’s largest private banks, announced that it had converted three training facilities in Bhubaneshwar, Gurugram, and Pune into isolation centers for COVID-positive employees.

Hindustan Coca Cola Beverages, the Indian unit of Coca Cola Company, imported 25 oxygen concentrators—machines that provide supplemental oxygen—for employees as an emergency measure when parts of the country were facing a shortage of supply. It also arranged vaccines for employees and their families, as well as for contracted workers.

In India’s second wave, hospitals have run out of critical care beds, medicine, and supplemental oxygen. Parts of India have been under a lockdown for more than a month to break the chain of infections. The lockdowns have helped reduce the number of cases and eased the pressure on the health care network. Scientists expect the situation to improve gradually through early July. 

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