Govt. to remove contentious clause from EPF Bill

Opposition fears attempt to siphon off monies
By Chandani Kirinde

The Government has decided to delete a contentious clause in the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) (Amendment) Bill which provides for the setting up of a pension or insurance fund for members, due to strong objections by the Opposition.

The Bill will be taken up for debate in Parliament on Wednesday but both the UNP and the JVP said that despite Government assurances, they will remain vigilant when the Bill comes up to ensure that there is no covert attempt to tamper with the monies in the Fund.

Labour and Labour Relations Minister Gamini Lokuge told the Sunday Times the clause in the Bill that empowers the Commissioner General of Labour to establish an insurance and pension scheme for the benefit of the members will be withdrawn.

Both the UNP and the JVP have alleged this is an attempt by the Government to covertly bring in a private sector pension scheme which was shelved last year due to massive protests but Minister Lokuge categorically denied there is any such move.

The other contentious clauses in the Bill make provision to invest monies from the EPF for the construction of a secretariat on behalf of and for the use of the Fund. The Opposition has called for amendment to this clause as well but it is likely to remain unchanged.

“The Government is trying to use the hard earned money of workers to put up a multi-storeyed building. If it is keen to construct such a secretariat, it should get money from the Treasury,” UNP Gampaha District MP Dr.Jayalath Jayawardena who is also the Chairman of the Party’s trade union, the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya (JSS) said.

The other amendments in 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 imprisonment for those who contravene 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 the prison terms for offenders will be increased from six months to 12 months.

Meanwhile, former MP and JVP trade union leader Wasantha Samarasinghe said that the Government, while introducing provisions that would be beneficial to the workers is making an attempt to sneak in provisions that would give it access to the EPF monies“We have made representations to the Labour Minister and said we want the clause on the insurance and pension scheme completely withdrawn and the clause on getting money for the building of a secretariat amended so that a limit is placed on how much of the EPF monies can be used for this purpose,” Mr.Samarasinghe told the Sunday Times.

DNA MP Vijitha Herath said that if the Government does not introduce changes as promised, his party would protest against the Bill in Parliament.Minister Lokuge said the amendments to the EPF Act are for the benefit of the workers and will enable members who have contributed to the fund for over ten years, are presently employed and has more than Rs.300,000 in the EPF account, to withdraw up to 30 percent of the savings in their individual accounts for purposes of housing and medical treatment.

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