Plea to Centre to double provident fund beneficiaries: RSP union
An RSP-backed trade union has urged the Narendra Modi government to bring more people under the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation by amending existing rules — a demand which, if accepted, will double the number of EPF beneficiaries across the country.
Ashok Ghosh, the general secretary of the United Trade Union Congress (UTUC) and a member of the regional EPFO in Bengal, has raised the demand in a letter to Union minister for labour and employment Bhupender Yadav. The demand has the support of almost all major trade unions in the country, Ghosh claimed.
Ghosh urged the Centre to make the EPF available to contractual employees like home guards, ASHA and anganwadi workers, MGNREGA labourers and para teachers.
If the Modi government accepts the proposal, it will make lives of “few more crores of people” better by offering them “certain degrees of social security”, said Ghosh who has been spearheading a movement for several years for the opening of the EPF for more people.
To build the case in favour of the demand, the letter has pointed out that the Bihar government had already brought such workers under the EPF net over the past two years and consequently, the number of beneficiaries in the state had gone up significantly.
“But unfortunately, no other state has replicated the initiative taken by the Bihar government. That is why the Centre should come forward to ensure social security for crores of contractual employees engaged by various state governments,” said Ghosh.The union has also sought amendment to the existing rules to bring under the EPF facility workplaces where 10 people work. “According to the existing rules, staff at workplaces with at least 20 employees can be registered under the EPF facility. The time has come to extend the facility to more employees by bringing workplaces where 10 people work under the EPF net,” said Ghosh.
A rough estimate by the union suggests if the changes are made, about 13 crore people would come under the security net. At present, 6 crore people avail themselves of the EPF.
The union has also demanded that the minimum EPF pension be increased to Rs 5,000 a month from existing Rs 1,000 considering the rise in prices of essential commodities in the past few years.
In Bengal, sources said, 1.6 crore people could be brought under the EPF security net additionally if the EPF rules are altered. Around 1.5 crore people who were issued job cards under the MGNREGA could get the facility, in addition to few thousands of civic volunteers, ASHA and anganwadi workers and para teachers.
Sources in different government departments said they were sceptical about the possibility of the Centre heeding the union’s demand. “The Centre is trying to cut down expenditure on employees’ welfare. As these proposed amendments involve financial responsibilities, it is uncertain that the Centre would accept those,” said a bureaucrat.
He explained that in March 2020, the EPFO had lowered interest rate on PF deposits to a seven-year low of 8.5 per cent for the 2019-20 fiscal from 8.65 per cent provided for the 2018-19 financial year.
“Since then, the interest rate has not been hiked. This means the Centre wants to cut down its financial responsibilities.… Now, if more beneficiaries are brought under the facility, the financial responsibility would increase. So, it is unlikely that the Centre would accept these proposals,” said the bureaucrat.
Not only cutting down the interest rate, the Union government had earlier announced tax on 60 per cent of the PF withdrawal in 2014. But because of protests from several unions, the decision was withdrawn, sources said.
“It is clear the BJP-led central government is not employee-friendly. So, I doubt whether the Centre would accept these demands,” said the bureaucrat.
Ghosh, however, said a majority of the EPF facilities were supposed to be implemented over the past 10 years as the board of trustees of the EPF had agreed to accept these proposals 10 years ago.
“But nothing has been done in the past 10 years. We have put forward the proposals again and would work to ensure that the Centre accepts the same for the sake of crores of people who lack social security in the country,” said Ghosh.