Soni, Chief Ethics Counsellor, TATA Steel Limited

The world today is witnessing unprecedented circumstances making survival and safety of paramount importance. An organization that stands by its values and principles and the character it demonstrates during difficult times becomes the hallmark of its brand. How it treats and responds to the needs of its stakeholders is what leaves a last impression in their minds. This is the time when—more than profits— the lives of others matter most. Whether it is our employees, vendors, customers or community, each one of these stakeholders need to be cared for and valued.

Tata Steel, which has one of its vision element as “being a benchmark in Corporate Citizenship” enlivened it during the pandemic. The biggest challenge was protecting a workforce of more than 100,000 people, own and contract, working for us across various locations. Being a manufacturing unit and having continuous operations like Blast furnaces, steel making units and essential services like Power plants, mining operations, complete shutdown was not possible. However, the need was to operate with minimum resources as prescribed by government and this made us recalibrate our expectations and challenge the limitations of existing systems and infrastructures. This meant a constant innovation in existing approaches. While Tata Steel played a major role in combating the pandemic situation in the areas of operation, the role of various functional units became prominent to support the sustenance of the business Various functions like Human resources, Safety, Operations, Supply chain, Corporate administration, Corporate Communications collaborated to revisit and redesign their processes to achieve the overall objective of saving lives and supporting the organisation to sustain. Various initiatives were taken to ensure the safety and health of our people and community in collaboration with Government. The initiatives taken at various fronts to take care of our people and community around us have been enumerated below:

1. Leading with care

The role of senior management amplified under the current conditions of managing the national guidelines of pandemic, securing production safeguarding safety and security of workforces. Messages from senior leaders shared with all Tata Steel employees on a regular basis and the leaders reached out to all the employees daily, addressing their anxieties, concerns giving them the comfort of a safe and caring workplace.

2. Health & Safety Measures in the New Normal

2.1 Development of SOPs and Guidelines: Ensuring the safety of our people remains a top priority. Several guidelines were introduced keeping in pace with the everchanging safety norm, advisories and guidelines published by the Government and medical bodies. Adjusting to the new normal way of working called for developing standard operating procedures (SOP) for quarantine, usage of masks, social distancing and more. To strictly enforce the guidelines, a consequence management framework was developed and implemented for violations of SOPs related to COVID.

2.2 Eliminating touch based systems: For the safety of contract employees, the company disabled the biometric system-based attendance recording; only radio frequency identification based monitoring continued. Digital information Kiosks across the company were disabled to avoid the risk of spreading the virus.

2.3 Regular sanitisation of all control rooms, cleaning of floors and facilities across offices/ plant areas/ canteens/ cafeterias were initiated. Sanitisation of all the duty buses to which carried the contract workforce to their workplace was carried out every day.

A gigital suraksha card platform has enabled visibility of 65,000 contract workers across mining & manufacturing locations thereby providing numerous business insights. It was also being leveraged to detect workforce crowding to ensure social distancing.

3. HR Measures

The nationwide imposed lockdown necessitated the need for people to work from home. This called for challenging the myth of work from home not possible in a manufacturing organisation as most of the employees were forced to operate from their homes When social distancing became the need of hour to protect virus from spreading, our technology readiness proved to a big enabler in living up to the challenge. Our digital infrastructure helped in connecting 8000 employees while working from home and conducting more than 3000 meetings a day leveraging technologies like Microsoft Teams, Webex etc. These enabled day-to-day meetings, webinars and e-conferences and eliminated the need of in person contact. Additionally, procedures and guidelines were put in place to enable social distancing at work place, and smooth transition of a large employee base from working in offices to a work from home set up.

As a responsible employer, Tata Steel continued to support the livelihood of the contract workforce by ensuring continuation of payments even during a phase of curtailed or no production in its manufacturing units. Sessions on experience sharing, stress management during lockdown kept the employees engaged during the period.

Tata Steel introduced an e-learning courses at Re 1 during the lockdown period and reached out to more than 3 lakh people— including students and working professionals. Total e-learning course licenses issued has been to 803,793 as of April 30, 2020.

 4. Supporting Community

The novel coronavirus outbreak, which continues to rapidly around the world has posed a public health crisis and economic lockdown. Amid this challenge, Tata Steel has reached out to citizens in the areas its located through various initiatives like distributing meals (thought for Food), vegetable supplies at home, initiatives of stitching of masks (Stitch in Time), contribution to relief funds. The relentless efforts made by “Corona Warriors”, the Medical fraternity working in Tata Medical Hospitals, Security, Utility and infrastructure services. Tata Steel has made arrangement to support more than 1000 COVID patients in its area of operations- 600 beds in Odisha, 650 beds in Jharkhand.

5. Handling Queries and Redressals

The pandemic and the uncertainties that came with it created lot of anxiety and fear amongst people. To address the same the helpline number of the Tata Main Hospital (maintained by Tata Steel) was made operational for employees to address COVID-19. 24X7 COVID-19 A helpline was created for Tata Steel and TIS group employees across all locations to provide accurate and quick information on COVID-19 Medical/HR/Communication issues.

Speak Up, our third-party whistle blowing helpline number was extended for reporting violation of COVID related rules by employees and their families. The issues were investigated and addressed on a priority basis.

6. Responsible marketing and new product initiatives

Tata Steel was quick to respond to the changing needs of its customers due to the pandemic. Its brand ‘Nest-I’n was a first responder to the COVID-19 crisis and designed isolation & quarantine wards and swab collection kiosks as new offerings to customers. Also, a few of the current offerings were repositioned for use as ICUs and portable toilets, essential for the healthcare. Tata Steel roofing brand Tata Shaktee and rebars Tata Tiscon has fabricators and masons enrolled as part of its brand community are part of the ‘migrant labour’ community, who were severely affected due to lockdown. A Wellness Survey was initiated for each stakeholder to ascertain the health and well-being of the masons and fabricators. To date, 5200 masons and 5400 fabricators have been contacted and 99% of the respondents are in good health

7. Communication

Uniform and consistent communication to employees and contract workers were designed to provide necessary information to them to abide by the regulations. The diverse communication included snippets, audio-visuals, SOPs. necessary circulars, guidelines, protocols and awareness regarding Covid19.

Social Media platforms were utilised to reach a wider audience with posts on the company’s health and safety measures, encouraging social distancing, maintaining hygiene etc. Tata Steel Brand campaigns: #StayHome #StaySafe, #FightbackFromHome and #ShakteeKeSang, urged stakeholders to stay at home and maintain the necessary precautions and hygiene. Using targeted platforms viz. Facebook, Instagram, SMS and E-mail, the campaigns touched over 8.5 lakh people across India.

The current scenario brought on by the pandemic and lockdown shows how dependent we are on each other for our safety and existence. As all of us adjust to the new normal, we must be sensitive to the needs of our stakeholders, understand their anxieties and fears and be empathetic towards them. For an organization to be perceived as responsible, each employee of the organization must act in a responsible way and abide by the rules and regulations and be guided by our values and principles. Tata Group’s code on ethics represents its philosophy, belief and values. This is the most important reason for the trust that our stakeholders have on us and at difficult times like this we have ensured we act responsibly towards them, take care of them, stand by them. Tata Steel once again demonstrated our responsibility as an individual and as as a representative for all of our stakeholders and communities, making us a Responsible Corporate.


About the Expert:

Ms. Soni serves as Chief Ethics Counsellor at Tata Steel Limited. She has over 24 years of experience. She is a Chemical Engineer and holds an Executive Diploma in General Management, specializing in Operations and Finance from XLRI.  She has worked in different areas: a) R&D as a Researcher, b) Total Quality Management and was responsible for driving the implementation of Daily Management, Small Group Activities & Quality Management System, and  Theory of Constraint in Supply Chain & Operations across Tata Steel.