EPF, ETF billions to the rescue

Govt., unions likely to patch up agreement soon to help100,000 job losers
By Leon Berenger

The authorities are set to take billions of rupees from unclaimed EPF and ETF funds to compensate some 100,000 apparel workers who have been laid off owing to the current world financial crisis, government and union officials said yesterday.

They said a tri-partite committee made up of representatives from trade unions, employers and the Government is set to hammer out a final draft later this month to work out the modalities of payments to these workers.

Minister Seneviratne

Labour Minister Athauda Seneviratne told the Sunday Times that they would study the job-losses issue on a case-by-case basis to provide financial and other assistance.

He said this would be done by a special committee comprising representatives of the Treasury, Central Bank, the apparel industry, the Board of Investment and the EPF and ETF commissioners.

Earlier, trade unions had sought at least 75 percent of a worker’s monthly wage for at least one year under the Unemployment Benefit Scheme for those who have lost their jobs due to the crisis in the apparel industry, FTZ Apparel Trade Union official Anton Marcus said.

“This compensation could be made on a monthly basis until the worker is provided with an alternative job,” he said.

This compensation was long overdue and the authorities were forced to consider this benefit scheme owing to the pressure kept up by the trade unions, Mr. Marcus said. “Since the start of last year an estimated 200 garment factories have closed down and the number is likely to increase owing to the global crisis and other factors such as the reduction in export orders,” he said.

A senior Labour Department official confirmed that moves were underway to cash in on the unclaimed or idle ETF and EPF reserves to compensate those who have lost their jobs.

A decision would be taken before the end of this month, the official said. He said the matter was discussed at length at the last meeting of the National Labour Advisory Council on May 26 and the government was fully aware of the problems faced by those who were forced out of work.

However he could not tell how much will be taken out of the EPF and ETF funds, but added that it would run into billions of rupees.The NLAC meeting was attended by representatives from the trade unions, the Labour Ministry and the apparel industry.

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