Staying Youthful, Entrepreneurial and Solid our Sea Farers, Hospital Teams, Welfare Officers make WFH look like a cakewalk. Shipping is the lifeblood of the global economy keeping Supply Chain moving. Assam Tea is an agricultural business that does not wait for anything and is labour intensive thus people at work are at risk from Covid 19. In this issue we focus on Apeejay People at work in these two of our business verticals. We also spotlight the IT staff who serve as the lifeline that connects everyone with each other and the business processes applications. If you missed Apeejay Heroes Edition 1 that focussed on Apeejay People in our other industry verticals, Read it by clicking here
These are trying times for the entire world under the Covid-19 pandemic and particularly in shipping where it is business as usual and the show has to go on. Thus this good vessel APJ Jai is no exception. While our country and many others are under ‘lockdown’ we too under several advisories/guidelines from governing bodies have drawn up our own plan to remain isolated and take preventive measures to minimize human contact with the outside world and widely sanitising the interior,exterior and aircon system of the ship whilst the vessel calls Ports. Sea Passage is much simpler in these times of crisis but unfortunately, our ship has extensively been in Ports rather than sailing which makes it more challenging. To make matters only worse we have been calling ports in Bangladesh, Myanmar even now Singapore where the entire cargo operations are carried out at anchorage. This involves a large number (ranging 20 -50 persons) of outside stevedore labour remaining 24/7 on board. Hard times call for hard decisions. I as Master with responsibility of the vessel and her complement have had to be assertive with Charterers, Agents, Stevedores et al while conveying that shore-personnel entry to accommodation to be strictly controlled and no meals,drinks be served. Motivation of the the ship’s staff is not such an easy task in the current scenario with many well over their stipulated tenure and calls for empathy and skillful management especially with a very demanding trading pattern of APJ Jai. The tempo of officers/ratings have been upped by regularly briefing with updates from office, Infinity data increased as a kind gesture from office, wholesome meals and inculcating positivity by harping that we on board are safer with controlled exposure than being ashore. However, it has to be felt whilst rest of the world are in isolation but with respective families, we are all far away, detached and have to at times remotely offer advice on crucial matters and solace to our loved ones back home. On suggestion of some of us we even held a makeshift ‘puja’ this morning attended by all staff except those resting, seeking blessings of the Almighty for all on board as well as humanity of the world at large. As a mark of solidarity the relevant recitals were done covering both Hindu and Islamic rites.
Overall we all here could be cited as an example of “United under adversity”.
On APJ Shirin we are going about completing our work. Last night (March 16th) we finished picking up cargo and had to sail away from Port at an earlier time than anticipated sailing schedule. The crew feel we are safest on board our ship. At anchorage ports around 35 shore people board the vessel for cargo operations however we strictly follow the personal protection equipment and all other guidelines issued by our SNQ. This unprecedented situation can be endured with adaptability and positive affirmative hope as this is what gets a sea farer going in any difficult situation. We withstand strong gale winds, zero visibility, stormy weather, hectic schedules and some sleepless nights, then this Virus shouldnt deter us from our ‘Positive Hope’ and faith in God ! Many of my friends are sailing on Tankers, Gas carriers, Containers are doing okay like us. . Worrying doesn’t change anything to become good or better so aboard Shirin we keep ourselves motivated by joking, thanking god that we sailed away from a Port and say cheers to ‘peaceful and healthy days ahead’ . We are busy with our physical work in upkeep of our ship and get together often. Our last 2 ports have been Mumbai and Mina Saqr (UAE). At Mumbai we discharged Iron Ore Fines and Calibrated Lump Ore. At Mina Saqr, we loaded Lime stone and we will be reaching Fujairah Port soon. With the country in lock down all ships will have to continue operations and will find it difficult on receiving spares, stores ; the crew will not be able to disembark on completion of contract and there will be no shore leave in any port. Provisions supply during the lock down are hampered to a great extent. Additional documentation to every Port health Office with Crew temperature logs daily morning and night is a new work load created. Problems in Surveys, Certification…the list goes on to what this crisis has brought home to the maritime industry. I prefer to see the ray of light at the end of the tunnel in the first week of May, and have hope of normalcy soon. We see no point in complaining when everyone is going through the same/similar situation. It is our way of looking at the situation that makes all the difference. Let us continue to hope for the BEST though we all are prepared for the later part.”
“We are much safer right now on high seas. There is fresh breeze, our own team, healthy atmosphere as long as we are on high seas (sea passage). Fear grips the crew as soon as we arrive at a Port and the possibility of contracting the virus through pilots, agents’ stevedores who board the ship for cargo handling assumes in our mind a high possibility. Each port stay is threatening in a way. My friends across the world are on Tankers and are having a tough time going through various cargo inspections like vetting etc. and their fear of contacting shore staff is same as us on bulk cargo carriers. We are all engaged in our daily routines, resolving various new issues, and problems cropping on board the vessels and the days pass in doing our duties for our ship. These extra ordinary situation has never been experienced and all on board are extra cautious with every step. Not only with our crew and officers but managing the vessel’s movements economically with minimum problems is critical. Our salutes to the APJ team for the support and thanks for the great cooperation with our office staff and Superintendent and team in these hard times. We are receiving latest circulars and timely updates from our COO and I am meeting my crew in safety meetings often, updating information and motivating them to carry on board activities efficiently. I keep advising myself to keep in touch with my family and keep telling the same to my crew so they constantly feel light. As a master I keep pleasant atmosphere on board as this is my duty and my responsibility. It is clear that we must not hurt Nature for our own greed. We have to learn to live with other living creatures. The balance of life as the way the almighty created it must be created and restored. I am happy to see that Jad’s crew has so much more aware and is understanding so much more now. Situations teach us the lessons we need to learn. Jad has been to Haldia and Paradip Port for loading thermal coal and have visited Tuticorin for discharging our cargo which we finished on 12th APJ office is sincerely managing to supply the provisions and fresh water in these hard times. Our long associated vendors are doing such a great job! We are on board taking all control measures to minimse usage of fresh water and provisions and will continue to do so. Interaction with shore staff is unavoidable on geared ships such as ours, so our ETO and engineering staff are taking all safety precautions while dealing with crane operators, shore foreman etc! I really appreciate the excellent job being done to inspect and attend to cranes, gears whenever necessary to avoid delays. We realise that some of the stores and paints required for regular maintenance will be delayed because of lock down. We are all aware and function as per SOPs that we need to follow at Ports. We are using PPEs and cleaning hands with sanitizers and limiting all contact with shore staff. After handling supplies and documents we are washing hands thoroughly and while conversing we maintain a distance of 1 metre with shore staff. I spoke to my wife and children on 15th March. Though they feel I should have been with them in these circumstances but at the same time they feel I am much safer on-board APJ JAD and I should not travel back home in this moment of crisis. My sign off date is in a few days so I have been aboard JAD for last 4 months. While I do want to join my family but the fear of travelling through various modes of transport and coming across the agents, port authorities for formalities enroute home is daunting. Unless it is done by one single conveyance, it is worth waiting aboard JAD till the situation improves. “
“I work from Apeejay TechnoPark, Badarpur for last 6 years. Ahead of lockdown we got a circular that we have to work from home. Based on the detailed discussion with the team from HO (kolkata) all the team members prepared necessary software lists which we had to install in our personal laptops so we can have control of the WFH situation and can address user issues as an when required without being on site. On an average I receive 10-15 calls with issues from Apeejay Shipping, Apeejay Tea, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, and Typhoo India. So far the team has been successful in resolving the problems faced by the users. We are grateful to Apeejay who declared a WFH policy well before the lock down was announced. This gave us time to prepare a plan of action because the nature of our job is such that we cannot have a time bound work thus we need to be equipped at all times. ”
Much before lockdown we started preparing for the pandemic. Along with our welfare officer Hiranya Khandit, I started conducting awareness sessions making the workers of our estate aware about the infectious nature of the disease and sanitization and self-hygiene steps that they and we all will have to follow to keep it at bay. Masks were distributed and they were explained how to maintain social distancing along with importance of usage of gloves and hand washing techniques. We created an 8-bed quarantine ward at the estate hospital where anti-natal check-ups and immunisation is carried out in collaboration with the government’s health department. We also have a dispensary at our out garden. After the lockdown was announced. I told the health staff to tell all the workers to stay at home as that would prevent spread of the disease. During this time, around 32 workers had returned to the estate from other states. They were sent to the Civil Hospital in Tinsukia where they were kept in quarantine for 14 days and released later as they did not show any symptoms of the disease. We kept an ambulance ready 24×7 so that if any outbreak occurs, the patient can be immediately sent to the hospital and isolated. All this while, I am also in regular touch with the government health department and also attended a training organized by the health department.
Post lock down, we are maintaining basic protocols like wearing masks and maintaining social distance. We cannot say for sure that the virus will go away so easily. Hence, we have to be alert. The only cure I can see in the future is if we can come up with a vaccine for the disease. At the gardens, so far there has not been any spread but if it spreads then it will be difficult to stop as the hospitals here are not equipped to check the disease or cure it. That is a major cause of concern at the estates. Our only step now is to tell the workers to take safety precautions and work.
We have been conducting regular awareness meetings at the hospital, school and worker’s quarters along with the welfare officer Shivashish De. Sanitization of the hospital is carried out regularly. We are conducting sessions on hand washing and social distancing techniques. We have created a quarantine ward at the hospital. We had one person who had returned from Karnataka. We had sent him to Tinsukia Civil Hospital for 21 days quarantine after which he returned. Generally, we have an OPD from 8 am to 11 am everyday where we have patients with seasonal flu, respiratory infection and diarrhoea.
I work with Apeejay Tea for 12 years posted in Assam. It is difficult for anybody in Tea Estates to work from home. It is quite impossible in the IT field. I am working from home for the first time in my career! What I thought would be impossible has become possible with constant support from the team members specially Joy Bagish da. I have solved many issues sitting at my home. With regular team calls, making checklists and expecting issues we could apprehend from where we can face problems, have a plan in place and resolve quickly. Now the Govt has declared that Assam tea estates can work with 50% worker strength I have started going to office on alternate days to check if all is running smoothly. I stay near the office so I take this opportunity to support the tea team who are working again while rest of the country is still in lockdown. I provide IT support for Jaboka, Suffry, Muttrapore and Napuk tea estate of Apeejay Tea. My biggest learning from this crisis is that software issues can be handled from home and only issues related to hardware a physical presence is required so we have a well-equipped team from a WFH situation in future too.”
Before the lock down was announced, I had organized meetings on Covid19 at the hospitals on how to wash hands properly, usage of masks, how to use a handkerchief while sneezing, maintaining 1 m distance at local gatherings, etc. I also told the patients coming to visit the hospital on how dangerous the virus is, in light of the fact that there are no vaccines or medicines for treatment and how important personal hygiene is to ward off the disease. Regular sanitization was carried out at the hospital wards as well as outside the hospital. During the lock down, we allowed only one attendant per patient. We had kept 6 isolation beds at the hospital ready for any type of suspect cases. There was one person who had returned from Tamil Nadu. He was diagnosed with a mild fever and cough. He was referred to Tinsukia Civil Hospital for testing for Covid19 but was found to be negative. He was kept in 14-days of isolation at the hospital after which he was discharged. We also have 20 quarantine beds ready at the staff and labour clubs. The hospital staffs have been advised to use aprons, masks and examination gloves as personal protective gear.
With the lock down, the transmission of COVID19 has been contained to a large extent but this is not a permanent solution to contain the disease for indefinite period. If vaccine or medicines to cure the disease is not invented early, the disease will turn out to be a severe one, particularly in the winter months. Early detection of cases and effective treatment should be instituted as early as possible. Personal health care, as has been advised daily, should be maintained strictly. Personal immunity should be improved by taking foods and exercises as advised. Lock down should be released in phases now depending upon the zones they are in. This may help in acquired immunity in public at large in the long run. Also, I feel that the working hours of the healthcare professionals treating active Covid19 patients should be reduced to minimise the effect of the deadly virus on them. More PPEs should be provided to them. The hospitals need to be equipped well enough to treat Covid19 cases.
When the news first started coming in about Novel Corona virus outbreak, Dhulapadung organized an awareness camp with Line Chowkiders and Mothers club member at Dhuladung Tea Estate Hospital on 8th February 2020 to extensively discuss about the Virus and what preventive measures would be necessary to control its spread. In March, we organized an awareness camp at work site on 14th and at Moinajuli Division on 15th to take the message to all our tea workers. On 23rd March, I conducted a training programme for school teachers and line chowkidars at the estate hospital. On the same day, some people, who had returned to the estate from outside Assam were quarantined at our quarantine wards, were sent home but advised to stay in home isolation as per government guidelines. They had to undergo regular medical check ups. Dr. Adhikari, SDM & HO from Rangapara PHE had visited the quarantine wards on 28th March and was satisfied with the facilities being provided. Dr. S. Tamuli, SD & MO of Sonitpur District Health Society along with Ms. Rumi Pator, DSO IDSP also visited on 1st April for monitoring and supervision of COVID 19 quarantine inmates and found the quarantine wards and hospital well maintained.
Post lock down, we are following all government protocols like screening of workers, 6 steps hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, compulsory use of face mask, social distancing etc. People, who were under quarantine and found asymptomatic, were discharged from quarantine after 28 days of strict observation. As people have no immunity to the virus, most countries around the world have been badly affected by it. People need to follow the preventive measures for COVID 19 so that its spread can be halted and it does not kill more people. As there is no vaccine or specific medicine for COVID 19, all guidelines on preventive measures, as circulated by the Health Ministry, are the best way to protect ourselves from COVID 19.
Since there was no definitive treatment of Covid19, we began by conducting awareness sessions on preventive aspects of the disease. We asked the people at the estates to stay at home, maintain social distancing, use masks and regularly wash their hands for 20 seconds at least. Labour Lines and hospitals were and are being sanitized on a daily basis by spraying sodium hypochlorite solution. Hand washing stations have been created at the entrance of the hospital gate for washing of hands and feet before entering and leaving the hospital compound. It is mandatory for all people except the non-ambulatory patient. The practice is ensured by the chowkidar posted at the gate. We have also restricted movement of the patient’s attendants. Separate isolation wards have been kept ready at the hospital for people suspected with Covid 19. People returning from other states have been home quarantined. For the safety of health care workers, basic PPE like surgical masks, caps and gloves have been provided. They have also been advised to take all the possible sanitization measures before leaving hospital and entering their own homes after their work days are over. Trainings on Covid-19 have been carried out for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and laboratory technician by the government authorities along with faculties from medical colleges.
There is no surety that the virus will be eliminated from the face of the earth after the end of various lock downs favoured by the government. One can only be cautious enough to not risk not only his health but also the health and well being of his family, relatives and everyone in his vicinity. We must abide by the regulations directed by the government and should be careful of the fake news circulated via social media platforms. In case of any symptom related to Covid-19, we should immediately contact our nearest health centre or call on the helpline number. By social distancing we are not exactly destroying the disease but slowing down the spread of the disease. Thus, there lies a chance of severe transmission once social distancing is discontinued. Our healthcare system needs to be protected to handle the load but people should not mislead themselves over the outcome of this quarantine.
“I work from Kolkata Ahead of lockdown since the company already declared WFH Policy so the team members downloaded all necessary software in their personal laptops and prepared lists of possible issues we might face keeping the general business related pattern of issues. This helped all the team members to sort their concerns while still at work. Infact this assessment of problems led to strengthening the support for Network Link Back up function which is extremely crucial. Now any software related issues we can handle, incase of hardware issue it gets complicated then we try teaching the user to fix it for the time being. I manage issues from Group companies like Apeejay Tea, Apeejay Shipping, Oxford Bookstore, Apeejay Surrendra Management Services and Apeejay Real Estate. For Apeejay Data Centre Monitoring presently we are taking support from the Security Incharge at Apeejay House which if we look at it positively is a way of equipping people to handle jobs beyond their responsibility and at the same time helping them to learn new things and staying busy as they stand guard of corporate assets.”
We began by conducting awareness sessions among the workers with the help of local union members, Asha Karmis, school teachers and Line Chowkidars. I had attended three meetings on preventive measures for Coronavirus that was conducted by the Deputy Commissioner of Tinsukia district on 16th, 19th and 21st March. Sanitization of the areas where workers live were done with the help of welfare officers. During the lockdown, the workers were told not to step out of their homes except for necessities and if they were to venture out, they were told how to maintain social distancing, use masks and wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Washing hands was made compulsory at the hospital gate. Surgical masks, gloves and caps were provided to all hospital staffs and workers. Two quarantine wards were created at the hospital – one for male patients and another for female patients. Those who came from other states were asked to stay in home quarantine for 14 days.
As news about Covid19 started pouring in, I had to make arrangements to protect our workers from the disease. Along with the garden management and health staff, we started awareness sessions on how to wash hands properly and maintaining social distancing protocols. One of my key tasks was to collect money from State Bank of India, Sonari branch, with the help of police personnel and pay wages at the doorsteps of the workers. Another major task that I accomplished was distributing rations to 1100 workers, 113 sub-staffs and 35 staffs of the estate maintaining a distance of 1 m. We had also done sanitization of the worker’s homes, staff quarters, hospital and office. We also supplied masks to each of the workers and supplied clean drinking water through a water tank. On the family side, I was faced with a challenge of bringing back my wife from Arunachal Pradesh, who works there as a senior secondary school teacher at Vivekananda Kendriya Vidyalyay in Sheragoan. Her school’s summer vacation started on 31st March but since the lockdown was announced, inter-state borders were sealed and shoe could not travel back to Assam. I have spoken to the Superintendent of Police here and trying out all odds to bring her back.
After the lockdown was announced, my responsibilities doubled compared to normal work days because we were working as a team with the district administration and implementing all the protocols necessary. This included organizing awareness programmes; forming surveillance committee to maintain strict vigil on outsiders entering the residential areas of Jaboka; sealing of estate boundaries; creating awareness on social distancing, use of masks, hand wash & hygiene. Everyone is on red alert and daily reports about quarantined persons are sent to the DC’s office. It is with collaboration with the DC’s office that we handed over wages door to door to workers; issuing rations to the workers following social distancing protocol; conducting santization programmes in and around Sonari town, houses of workers, staff quarters, clubs, hospitals, community halls, factory and office. The only time I get for myself is after office when I spend my time watching news or reading newspapers. Nowadays, every day is tough and poses a new challenge but being an employee of a reputed organization like Apeejay Tea, I consider myself lucky to serve the workers and the organization in these unprecedented times.
“This period has been one of immense learning for me. Everything we thought that was not possible without our physical presence we now know can be handled remotely too. Thanks to Joy Bagish da who has been motivating us during our daily team calls. I work from Kolkata and we find that the general problems relate to mails and installing softwares etc which is very much supportable as we WFH. The whole team is always on standby as we receive calls from the Vessels of Apeejay Shipping and addressing their issues is the priority. My personal learning from this crisis is my thought process has changed and I have kind of developed only solution oriented thinking and it kicks in irrespective of what time I am working or when I get a issue call. The interesting part is we do not realise what time of the day we are working!”
When the lockdown was announced, one of the main challenge before me was payment of bonus of over 1497 permanent workers and around 800 casual workers. Keeping in mind that we had to maintain social distancing protocols, I knew that it would take up quite some time to disburse the bonuses. So, we started earlier than normal to avoid crowding of the estate. The payments would go on till 2.30 pm every day for two days and circles were made at a distance of 1 m between each, where the workers had to stand to ensure physical distancing. The line would be so long that it would stretch across an entire field. In a similar way, we also paid wages to the workers. I had to go to the bank along with my manager and a security guard to take the money which was to be paid as bonuses to the workers. Our awareness sessions on social distancing, how to wash hands, maintaining hygiene, sanitization of the workers’ houses, hospitals, office and factory area had started in March. We were keeping a watch on people coming into the garden from other states. We also created quarantine centres and isolation wards at the hospital to isolate anybody with symptoms or anybody coming from outside back home to Kharjan. I stay with my wife at the estate while my parents and younger brother stay in Doomdooma town. As a result of the lockdown, things became difficult for us as I could not go to visit my parents due to additional responsibilities that had come upon me. So, one day I sent my wife along with the estate manager, who was going to Talup for some work, to drop her at Doomdooma and on another occasion, I had to send her on an ambulance that was going to Doomdooma.
After the declaration of COVID 19 as a pandemic disease by WHO, we started conducting awareness meetings at hospital, schools, field and factory along with hospital staffs and union members. Schools were already closed so we engaged the school teachers for creating awareness among the workers about the deadly disease while the line chowkidars and union members strictly monitored the residential lines for entry of outsiders – people coming back to their families in our Estate from other states. The passage to the workers’ houses were sealed to prevent entry of outsiders. Meanwhile, 13 youth returned to the estate from Gujarat, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Chennai. All of them were sent to nearby Public Health Centre for medical check-up. The doctors advised them to stay at their respective houses for 14 days and report any fever, dry cough or any symptoms related to COVID 19. We have sanitised our hospitals, offices, schools, labour lines, staff quarters, bungalows with bleaching powder. A major challenge during the lockdown period was disbursement of bonus, issue of ration and fortnightly wage payment which we have done following social distancing protocols. Our garden was reopened on 14th March and we started our daily operations following all safety measures. We purchased locally made masks from self help groups in our area and distributed them to all the workers. Later on, the government also provided 4200 masks in our garden. Soaps and water tanks were provided at all working sites in the field for washing hands. Maintenance of social distancing was strictly supervised at all worksites. As most of the workers in the estate are illiterate, constant motivation and guidance was required to help them adopt to this new life style against COVID 19 where markets are closed, resources and income is limited. As of now, we have collected a list of 230 people who went outside the district in search of work and had not returned to their houses. The list was submitted to the local police station. All the entry points of the garden had been locked for outside entry and chowkidars were deployed at these gates. Taking all possible safety measures, we are hopeful to keep our garden safe from COVID 19.
My normal routine has not changed much after the lock down but my pattern of work has changed. We have now restricted daily welfare jobs like house repairing, water supply maintenance to bare minimum as suppliers are not being able to supply repairing materials due to the lock down. People are understanding the situation and are co-operating with us. We are also unable to create awareness meetings with mass gathering as we used to do earlier in hospitals, club and labour lines. So, we are creating awareness in small groups and in the plucking challans during weighment time. Challenges we are facing now is to develop the habit of hand washing, no spitting, maintenance of social distance and wearing of mask among most of the illiterate person which are not followed, sometimes even by literate persons.
My husband is a Deputy Manager at Khobong tea estate where he is involved with resuming operations along with his team so he away doing his duty. Along with my work, I am also doing my mom’s duties as my two daughters Dikshita and Sameeksha are also locked down in the bungalow as their schools are closed. They keep demanding different dishes from me and I have to fulfill these demands!
Apeejay Heroes on the frontlines not working from home are inspirational and we will keep bring them along into our next blog where we will go back to check with Apeejay People at Work (from home) as India enters the fifth week of Lock down !
So stay tuned and keep reading as we bring to you incredible stories of our people who keep our businesses running !