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COVID-19: Electronics manufacturers in a fix over resuming operations

Krishan Sachdev, appliances industry veteran and managing director of Carrier Midea India, is restive. Since late March, he is spending hours monitoring the external business environment from his Gurugram residence.

The new guidelines from the Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday, allowing manufacturing to resume, albeit with caveats, have added to his restlessness.

He can’t wait to witness the sight of an active manufacturing unit filled with the sweet hum of rolling assembly lines.

But there is much to be done before he gets to see what he has been familiar with for the most part of his career of more than two decades.

As the focus now shifts to resuming operations at his plant in Bawal (Haryana), Sachdev is busier than ever, figuring out ways to overcome the hurdles ahead.

From satisfying the local and state-level authorities to finalising the new set of standard operating procedures, all manufacturers, like Sachdev, are facing a bumpy road before they can resume operations.

Carrier, for example, has finalised its plan for Monday. It has decided to begin with one working shift, instead of two, and one assembly line. It plans utilise less than 20 per cent of its normal workforce on the factory floor. The company, like many others, has also come up with a set of safety norms and is arranging for protective items like masks, gloves, and sanitizers.

A team of senior officials are in constant touch with the authorities, but are yet to secure a final go-ahead. Other leading manufacturers of electronics, appliances and mobile handset items — like Foxconn, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Wistron, Vivo, and Oppo — are in the same league.

Foxconn, for example, is facing challenges in securing the required workforce to resume operations at its plants in Sri City (Andra Pradesh). With public transportation blocked and workers scattered across states and in different districts, bringing the required set of skilled labourers together for all key divisions has become an uphill task.

Moreover, apart from gathering them at the right locations, securing the confidence of the various authorities like the state labour department, local industrial authorities, and the district magistrate concerned is what is consuming most of their time and energy since Wednesday. Among these, the labour department is in charge of ensuring the safety and hygiene of workers and most manufacturers are finding it difficult to chalk out a middle path between demands and their own blueprints for operation. Further, restricting the spread of coronavirus on their premises, once operations resume, has made most companies jittery.

Samsung and LG, both with their largest facilities in the Noida hub, were ready with a set of plans. Others in the area, like Vivo and Oppo and television maker Superplastronics (SSPL), have also submitted their plans on revised standard operating procedures.

The applications of Samsung, LG, and SPPL are yet to be approved. Vivo and Oppo, the second- and fourth-largest smartphone players in sales by volumes in India, do not have a clue. The two Chinese majors are yet to hear from the authorities on whether their plants are in the safe zone to be considered for resuming operations.

Since his factory in Jhajhar (Haryana) is in the green zone, Manish Sharma, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Panasonic India, is hoping to get permission to restart manufacturing soon. While Godrej Appliances has both its plants — in Satara (Maharashtra) and Mohali (Punjab) inside the green zones — it is co-ordinating with the local authorities to secure permit.

“Officials are now easily reachable and co-operative. But challenges prevail. From ensuring safety at premises to readying the workforce with training and health check-ups, a lot is to be done before April 20. These are unprecedented circumstances and every manufacturer will have to travel its own path,” said George Paul, CEO of industry body MAIT.

Sachdev said: “A lot of interactions are taking place. And we are hopeful of resuming work on Monday. But with offline stores shut, ramping up production to the 50 per cent level is some time away.” Business Standard

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