The government is considering a proposal to allow 100 per cent work from home (WFH) for employees in Special Economic Zones(SEZs) across sectors, Commerce & Industry Minister, Piyush Goyal has said.

If implemented, this will spell a big relief for IT/ITES and other units in SEZs who have been struggling with the WFH rules for SEZs specified in July this year, allowing only up to 50 per cent of the workforce to work from home..

Goyal said that the government had allowed WFH for units in SEZs when Covid was at its peak and employees were not able to come to office for work. “Our decision was much appreciated. Because of this, our services exports increased rapidly last year to $254 billion. This year, there will be a bigger jump,” the Minister said, talking to the media on the side lines of the Board of Trade meeting on Tuesday. 

The Commerce & Industry Ministry and the Finance Ministry are already in advanced discussions on the matter of allowing 100 per cent WFH for SEZ units, a source tracking the matter said.

Rule 43A

In July this year, the Commerce & Industry Ministry notified a new rule — Rule 43A Work from Home in SEZ Rules, 2006 — across all SEZs, providing validity to the extension of WFH for certain categories of employees, including those working in IT/ITES units for a one year period, but up to a maximum of 50 per cent of total employees. It said that higher ceiling could be allowed only with special permission.

In a recent meeting between the government and SEZ units on the issue of implementation of the WFH rules, several companies, many of them leading IT/ITES exporters, sought more time for implementation of the provision as they said workers were reluctant to return to their work places from their home-towns.

‘WFH had to be allowed’

Pointing out that the industry outlook was buoyant and there were many companies that wanted to invest or expand by employing more in India, the Minister said that, today the circumstances were such that if you forced people to come to work, in many instances people wouldn’t join and would instead go elsewhere because there is a shortage of manpower. “In many places, whether they want or not, employers have to allow WFH,” the Minister said, adding that in many areas allowing the facility was helping the country to increase exports.

The option of WFH had allowed people to work from smaller cities such as Patan, Rajkot, Jabalpur and Plampur and it became a source of jobs in such cities, Goyal said.

“When such examples came to us, we realised that allowing WFH in SEZs will help the country,” he said.