Govt. bows to the will of the people

  • Withdraws three Bills relevant to the Private Sector Pension scheme while victims of its opposition languish in limbo
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

The Government’s attempt to introduce a Private Sector Pension scheme looks a closed chapter, at least for now, with the decision to withdraw the three relevant Bills from the Order Book of Parliament last Wednesday.

Leader of the House Nimal Siripala de Silva said the Government is withdrawing the three Bills, namely, Employees’ Pension Benefits Fund Bill, Overseas Employees’ Pension Benefits Fund Bill and Pensions (Consequential Provisions) Bill.

While the decision is a welcome one and can be interpreted as the Government bowing to the strong opposition to such a scheme, sadly, for the family of the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) worker killed due to police firing during the protests, as well as those who sustained injuries in the Police crackdown, it may not come as much comfort. But the Government, even belatedly, to withdraw the Bills, and bow to the will of the people, can be perceived as a positive development.

That aside, the Government did go ahead with passing amendments to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) Act, but in this too, it dropped the clause that provided for the setting up of a Pension or Insurance fund for members, due to strong objections by the Opposition. The Bill was passed with 71 voting for and 12 against.

UNP Gampaha district MP Joseph Michael Perera and DNA MP Anura Kumara Dissanayaka who spoke during the debate on Wednesday, said that, had the Government listened to the voice of the people, when the Private Sector Pension Bills were first introduced, a life could have been saved and many would have been spared grievous injuries.

“Unfortunately, this Government does not listen to the voice of the people, be it on the university issue or other trade union demands. It first uses force and tries to arm-twist the people,” MP Dissanayaka said.
Labour and Labour Relations Minister Gamini Lokuge who introduced the Bill said it will benefit the workers of the country.

The new amendments will allow members who have contributed to the fund for over 10 years, are presently employed and has more than Rs 300,000 in their EPF account, to withdraw up to 30% of their savings in their individual account, for purposes of housing and medical treatment.

While Opposition members welcomed these features as positive, they opposed the introduction of a new provision to the EPF Act, which will enable EPF funds to be allocated to build a secretariat for the Fund. “The money in the Fund belongs to the workers and the Minister is asking Parliament to give a blank cheque to build a secretariat to house the Fund, without giving any details on where it will be located or how much would be required for it,” the DNA MP said.

Minister Lokuge said that Government has allocated a block of land near the Labour Secretariat for this purpose, and the building constructed as per Government specifications.

The other amendments to the Bill makes it mandatory for every employer, having in his employment a minimum of 50 employees, to furnish a monthly return containing such particulars as prescribed by the Commissioner General of Labour, along with a copy to the Central Bank, before the end of the following month.

It also increases the fines and terms of imprisonments for those who violate the provisions of the Act, with fines going from the present Rs 1,000 to Rs 20,000, the daily fines for defaulting payments going from Rs 50 per day to Rs 200 per day, while prison terms for offenders will be increased from six months to 12 months.

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