Going by the trend across the globe, the Eleventh Kerala Pay Revision Commission has started a discussion on exploring the possibility of adopting a hybrid model of "new normal" of work from home as well from office in public administration of the state government. During a freewheeling chat with The New Indian Express, commission chairman K Mohandas stressed the need to explore new avenues to make governance more effective and transparent. Excerpts.
Q. The commission has suggested that work from home (WFH) can be allowed in government offices, although it has not been recommended in the report. What made you come up with the suggestion?
A. Over the past one-and-a-half years, the world has shrunk to home for a large chunk of the population and both the private and public sectors are of the view that remote working can be continued at least in a partial or hybrid mode although it has its own advantages and disadvantages. In our scenario, the remote working model has yielded results in some sectors where productivity has increased, apart from cutting costs.
Hence, the commission is of the view that we can also make use of the hybrid form of work from home in some areas since the state government is going for complete digitisation and e-office reforms. For instance, lactating mothers or employees recovering from illnesses and, to some extent, the general category of employees can be allowed to WFH and this would not compromise on the quality of work, but rather increase productivity.
Q. Whether it is in this backdrop the commission has recommended a five-day week for government employees?
A. A majority of countries and even the Central government employees have been working on a five-day week basis. This can be put into experiment in Kerala as well. Giving two-day holidays on weekends would only increase the productivity of the employees. Since the timing of the office hours will be revised accordingly, there will not be any loss of man-hours. The only criticism is that the public may lose one day their official work at government offices. But the digitisation and e-office are meant for reducing the time spent by the public in government offices. Reducing the interaction time between the public and employees during this pandemic is also an additional advantage.
Q. The commission has recommended raising the retirement age from 56 to 57 years. Don't you feel that it would be greeted with stiff resistance in a state like Kerala?
A. The fact is that when compared with many other states in the country, the retirement age of public servants in Kerala is the lowest. Considering the relatively higher lifespan of people here, increasing the retirement age of employees is imperative and timely. Around 20,000 employees have been retiring from service annually and increasing the retirement age by one year will not alter the number significantly. The retirement ages of some sections of employees recruited after 2013 are above the current 56, so it will not reduce the opportunity of job seekers.
Q. You have recommended scrapping of appointments on compassionate ground.
A. Yes, the quality of service has to be ensured. The appointment on this ground at an age of 18 is nothing but a compromise on efficiency. When there are people with higher education being appointed in various posts, a dependent being appointed on the compassionate ground would be the odd one out. At the same time, he/she will be taking away the opportunity of the right candidate in the queue.
Instead, the state government should give a financial package for the dependents of the employee who dies in harness. Compassionate ground appointments are a violation of Article 16 of the Constitution which guarantees equal opportunity to all citizens in matters related to employment in the public sector. The time is up to scrap the practice.
Q. What's your take on the recommendation of bringing in a system to ensure transparency in the appointment of teachers in government-aided schools and colleges?
A. What is the logic behind appointing staff compromising on merit when they enjoy all benefits and perks on a par with other government employees? Merit should be the criterion for all appointments in government service and the state has a responsibility to ensure transparency in these appointments. To ensure the efficiency of the recruitment process, the commission has recommended the formation of the Kerala Recruitment Board for Private Schools and Colleges in association with management, which is the need of the hour.