Singapore firms with India operations tackling business survival, employees' well-being

SINGAPORE – A Singapore software solutions company that has the bulk of its key staff in India is beefing up recruitment to ensure it has enough manpower in case the South Asian country’s surging infection rate hits its workforce.

Napier Healthcare employs around 500 Indian workers who are usually based in Hyderabad or Bangalore but have been working from home since last year. It has only one to two Singaporeans working there for short periods on occasion.

India’s devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections has overrun its healthcare system, with countries including Singapore and the United States sending aid in the form of oxygen cylinders and diagnostic supplies.

Napier Healthcare is among an estimated 500 to 650 Singapore firms with operations in India that have had to deal with two main challenges – ensuring their commercial survival as well as employee well-being.

Most Singaporean staff based in India have returned home over the past year, noted chamber of commerce representatives and company officials.

Napier Healthcare chief executive officer Karthik Tirupathi, who used to travel to India about once or twice a quarter before the pandemic, said about 10 per cent of its workforce in India had been infected with Covid-19.

But while employees were usually unwell for about five to six days before they could be back at work in the first wave of infections, they are now out for longer periods during this second wave. “Now, when people are sick, it could be two to three weeks and they’re still not fully recovered. In the past, they would isolate and it would just be them who fell ill, but now it usually spreads to their entire family as well,” Mr Tirupathi said, noting that this has been the case since March.

Time is of the essence when it comes to making decisions on business continuity, such as the choice to hire more staff than the firm needs, he added. “If we stop to think what makes sense commercially and what does not, it would be too late.”

Digital consultancy SK Deep Tech, which intended to start online courses for engineering students in India last month, has put its plans on hold, given the virus surge.

Its director Kishore Kommareddi added that with the virus situation constantly evolving and cases surging, projects have been at a standstill, and there is no expectation of improvement until August.

Mr Vinesh Natali, global head and director of engineering consultant Meinhardt EPCM Group, said some of its clients’ infrastructure projects are being affected by the movement controls and supply of materials and manpower. These are starting to impact cycle times.

Meinhardt EPCM has been working with partners to identify supplies of oxygen tanks for the communities where it works, he added.

A suspected Covid-19 patient receives oxygen supply at a Sikh shrine, or gurdwara, where oxygen is made available for free by various Sikh religious organizations in New Delhi, on May 1, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

A spokesman for DBS Bank, which operates in several major Indian cities like Mumbai and Hyderabad, is supporting its Singaporean and other employees with initiatives such as Covid-19 insurance coverage. DBS has also partnered with a donation platform to match donations made by employees dollar-to-dollar to fund healthcare support and vaccination for the underprivileged.

Support from chambers

Last week, the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) and Little India Shopkeepers Association launched a drive to raise funds and support India in its Covid-19 fight.

The initiative aims to help protect the most vulnerable from direct impact due to the rapid spread of infections and to scale up life-saving protection and assistance in priority states and hospitals.

SICCI chief executive Johnson Paul noted that the chamber has been working with the Singapore High Commission in India and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) to assist Singaporeans who are in India to return home as more states are going into lockdown.

A spokesman for ESG, which has three offices in India, said it has been monitoring developments closely and will continue to engage with businesses in India and assist them when needed. “Most Singapore businesses already have business continuity plans in place and processes to facilitate remote monitoring and delivery of projects, in collaboration with local partners.”

Ground staff unload the Covid-19 medical supplies from France, upon the arrival of a cargo plane at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, on May 2, 2021. PHOTO: AFP 

Singapore Business Federation CEO Lam Yi Young said it is coordinating closely with the Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry on the support needed.

It has also heeded the call from its Indian counterparts for medical supplies and contacted Singapore firms that can supply medical oxygen and oxygen concentrators.

“Singapore companies remain keen to do business with India; we hope to see an improvement in the Covid-19 situation and will continue to work closely with our partners and counterparts,” Mr Lam said.

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