IT/ITeS Special Economic Zones (SEZs) units have sought flexibility in the implementation of new SEZ rules that allow only up to 50 per cent of the workforce to work from home (WFH) with many demanding more time to get employees back to office and proposing relaxation in rules on data submission on employees.

The Commerce Department, this week, held consultations with SEZ units, developers and development commissioners to understand their concerns on implementation of the WFH rules for SEZs notified in July this year, to decide how the rules could be operationalised, an official tracking the matter told BusinessLine.

Related Stories
Is the dream run for IT sector employees over?
With demand moderating, thanks to global macroeconomic and geopolitical concerns, IT firms are taking a closer look at operational expenses and cutting down on frills which were offered earlier

“Many IT companies that attended a consultation on WFH rules for SEZs on Monday pointed out that they had started sending out letters to their employees, who had shifted to their hometowns during Covid-19, asking them to come back, but it would take about 12-18 months to meet the target of getting 50 per cent of employees to work from office,” the official said. Representatives of major IT companies, including Infosys, TCS and Cognizant participated in the meeting.

In July this year, the Commerce & Industry Ministry had notified a new rule – Rule 43A Work from Home in SEZ Rules, 2006 – across all SEZs, providing validity to extension of WFH for certain categories of employees, including those working in IT/ITeS units for a one-year period that could be extended. However, it stated that  WFH may be allowed to maximum 50 per cent of total employees (higher ceiling could be allowed with special permission), including contractual employees of the unit.

Balancing exercise

This was perceived as a balancing exercise to also take care of interest of developers who have complained that WFH amounted to wastage of their infrastructure developed in SEZs.

In August, guidelines on SOP for WFH under SEZ rules were issued which specified that SEZ units opting for it should submit applications to the relevant development commissioners giving details of employees who would be eligible to opt for WFH and duration for which permission for WFH is required. 

It added that permission can be sought for a maximum of one year at a time and the units already operating under the WFH option covering the existing employees could be given 90 days for provision of required information as a one-time exception.

“There could be disruption ahead if you have to force these rules. In the last six months, we have managed to increase work from office for about 10 per cent from 4 per cent earlier. Our company wants to slowly get our workforce back to office without coercion,” a representative of a top IT company who attended the meeting said.

Some units also feel that providing details of all workers opting for WFH could be a difficult exercise. Instead, they suggested that they could provide details of workers coming to office on a monthly basis so that the government could keep track of whether the workforce was steadily moving back to the work place.

50% cap for WFH

“All stakeholders (including units and developers) have agreed to the 50 per cent cap for WFH but units have asked for some extension in time to reach that level. The Export Promotion Council for EoUs and SEZs is in favour of giving some time to reach that level as it cannot be a hard and fast timeline. However, some commitment should be there (from units). We are dealing with human behaviour and new norms of workplaces and new business model. Everybody has to change accordingly,” said Alok Chaturvedi, DG EPCES.