Industries scramble to have their workforce vaccinated in Karnataka


Not all industrial workers are categorised as priority group for vaccination.

A pharma major operating from Jigani recently took 250 of its employees across the border to Hosur in Tamil Nadu for vaccination. There have been several instances of industries ferrying their employees in vehicles to the other end of the City in search of the elusive vaccine.

Despite pharma employees being considered frontline workers, it has not been easy for them as far as vaccination is concerned. It is far worse for non-pharma industries such as engineering and automobile among others, whose workers are yet to be designated as frontline or priority. It has been a scramble for the scarce resource.

High absenteeism

As a result of vaccine shortage for those in the 18 years to 44 years age bracket, the industry is facing a high rate of absenteeism. Though conservative estimates put absenteeism in industries to be between 20% and 30%, some industries have been operating with just about 50% of the workforce.

Early this week, when an industry delegation met Karnataka Chief Secretary P. Ravikumar, high on the agenda was vaccination for the industrial workforce and their families that constitute less than 5 % of the population.

“Though industries are ready to pay, vaccination availability is a concern. Companies are keeping vehicles ready so as to rush its employees wherever vaccination can be found. Companies have earmarked their employees to check vaccine availability in the City,” President of Karnataka Employers’ Association B.C. Prabhakar said: “Many workers unable to return to Bengaluru from their villages/ towns due to lockdown have also added to high absenteeism.”

Death of union leaders

The COVID-19 epidemic fear has kept a large workforce away from work even as industries have faced cluster outbreaks over the last two months. If the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) has reported the death of as many as 15 of its unit level labour leaders, the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) puts the number of those succumbing to the pandemic at 20, all in the last month and a half.

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Meanwhile, several large industries have started vaccination camps for workmen and their families, spending a good amount on each worker. In one such instance, an aeronautical component manufacturer is spending ₹6,000 per worker and spouse on vaccination. “In contrast, there have been instances of management asking the worker to share the vaccination expenditure. Workers are in panic and they have been absent for safety reasons. It is the duty of the government to ensure universal vaccination,” CITU State general secretary Meenakshi Sundaram said.

Concurring with Mr. Sundaram, AITUC Bengaluru secretary M. Satyanand said that though large companies were undertaking vaccination drives voluntarily, the suppliers and ancillary companies were struggling. “They simply do not have the capability,” he said.

PIL petition filed

The AITUC has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition before the Karnataka High Court, seeking direction to the government to consider industrial workers as frontline workers, which would then enable them to get vaccinated.

The labour unions and management, which often disagree with each other, have found a common ground in vaccination. “The second wave seems to have brought labour on top of the agenda for the companies. In times of labour shortage, vaccination is now seen as an incentive to attract workers back to factories,” Mr. Prabhakar said.



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Sagar Biswas

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