EPF Pension: Minimum Pension increased to One Thousand - A.K. Padmanabhan

Employees Provident Fund related Employees Pension Scheme, being implemented from 1995, is being amended to ensure a minimum Pension of Rs.1000/- and also to increase the eligibility wage ceiling to Rs.15,000 per month from the existing Rs.6500.

The decision on this was taken in a urgently called meeting of the Central Board of Trustees on 5th February.

All the Trade Union representatives in the CBT welcomed the much delayed amendments, but raised various points regarding the Pension Scheme and also on other proposals placed in the meeting. CITU’s representative in CBT, A.K. Padmanabhan attended the meeting.

It has been a long pending demand of Trade Unions to raise the minimum pension and also other amendments to the Scheme. The issue of minimum pension of Rs.1000 was one of the 10 points on which the United Trade Union movement has been agitating and had conducted countrywide strikes. EPS Pensioners organizations have also been conducting various struggles.

This long pending issue, was studied by an expert committee in 2010, and was discussed by CBT. In the year 2012, the issue was referred to the Cabinet and was pending there for the last two years.

From the beginning

The history of struggle against the EPS 1995, dates back to its origin. The working people in the country, especially those who did not have any kind of pension scheme, have been demanding pension as a third benefit in addition to gratuity and Provident Fund. Instead of finding a solution to that Govt. hit upon the idea of this Employees Pension Scheme, which was compulsorily implemented.

Studying the Scheme in depth CITU has pointed out many problems and demanded overhauling the scheme to ensure benefits to workers. But, the Government put forth many dubious arguments and even Supreme Court accepted those arguments to `prove’ that the Scheme was beneficial to workers. CITU had also conducted a countrywide one day strike on this issue.

When years passed away, the points raised by the unions against the Scheme were found to be genuine. Paltry amounts of `pension’ roused anger among workers. Even now, 2.92 lakhs of pensioners are getting less than Rs.250 per month. Actually the amount now being received varies from Rs. 2 upwards.

More than 27 lakhs of pensioners are getting less than Rs.1000 per month.

In between, in the year 2008, certain important benefits like commutation of one third of pension for 100 months as lump sum and also clause on `return of capital’ were unilaterally withdrawn. These two benefits were the main points through which the Supreme Court was convinced in the case against the compulsory pension scheme.

Finance Ministry’s Demands

The present amendments on minimum pension and increase in ceiling was approved by the Finance Ministry on 21st January. According to the note of Finance Ministry circulated in CBT, the above said proposals for amendments are interlinked and are part of comprehensive proposals.

The following are the major proposals, which were also discussed in the CBT.

  • The proposal for ensuring minimum pension is only for a year (2014-15) and will be implemented from 1st April 2014. To enable the increase a budgetary allocation of Rs.1217.03 crores will be made.
  • Trade Union representative in CBT, protested against the `One year only’ proposal. Even the Labour Dept. felt that the Scheme cannot be amended for one year only. They also pointed out that `once modifications are introduced it would not be possible to roll then back’.
  • Finally, the Labour Minister, Shri Oscar Fernandez agreed that he will ensure that the increased pension not be curtailed after one year.
  • Many of the other proposals of Finance Ministry were such that the workers interests will be affected. CITU and other T.U. representatives emphatically stated that existing benefits should not be curtailed or reduced.
  • The calculation of Pensionable salary is now the average of the last 12 months wages. Proposal was to change this to the average of last 60 months wages. This will surely reduce the pensionable salary and also pension amount.
  • Govt. of India contributes 1.16% of the wages towards EPS. When the wage ceiling is being increased. Govt. wants to limit this contribution. Suggestions are that those who are above wage ceiling and voluntarily contributes to EPF will not be given this 1.16% and the workers themselves to be asked to pay the 1.16% from their contribution. Other suggestions include limit 1.16% upto Rs.15,000 even for those who are members of EPS from a lower wage level.
  • Trade Unions wanted all the existing practices in the case of ceiling of 6500 to continue, when ceiling is raised to 15,000.
  • Now, the members who have not rendered eligible service for pension at the time of their exit are entitled to a lumpsum withdrawal benefit. Finance Ministry wanted the deletion of the option for withdrawal.
  • The worker representatives protested and even the Labour Ministry said that it “would not be justifiable, given the fact that the government at present can not guarantee continuity of service or alternative job/work for any member who lose his employment”.
  • Another suggestion was to increase the age limit for Pension to 60 from 58. T.U. representatives made it clear that this can not be accepted unless the superannuation of workers are increased to 60, which in many industrial establishments is 58.
  • Another proposal is to increase the reduction rate which is 4% per year to 6%. This rate was earlier 6%, which was reduced to 3% and then increased to 4% in 2008. Reduction rate is applicable when pensioners get “early pension”.
  • This will also lead to reduction of existing benefits.
  • Finance Ministry wanted to change the existing investment pattern of corpus in EPS. Trade Unions had earlier rejected the proposals to investment funds in share market. Once again this was rejected by T.U. representatives and it was insisted that investment guidelines should be decided only by CBT.
  • The proposal for fixation of pension after changes in ceiling is that from 1st April 2014, pro-rate pension will be calculated, instead of calculating total pension on the basis of wages at the time of retirement.

There is also a proposal to add a proviso that “Central Govt. may make such rules as it may deem necessary for increasing, decreasing, continuing or discontinuing such subsidy or part there of in respect of all or any category of family pensioners”.

CITU objected to this vehemently as unilateral decision by Govt. will only result in negating benefits. Labour Minister was justifying the proposal of Govt.

On Commutation

CITU’s representative took up the issue of continued exploitation of those pensioners who are getting commuted pension even after the period of 100 months, for which they had commuted their pension. CITU has been demanding restoration of the original pension after the amount is recovered.

Employers Demand

Employers representatives said that they are against increasing wage ceiling to 15,000 in one stretch. They wanted it to be raised only to Rs.10,000 now and to 15,000 at a later stage. They had also raised that the small and medium enterprises will be affected due to increased expenses. All these points were sufficiently refuted by T.U. representatives.

Though the issue of Minimum pension is accepted by Govt., what they will finally do with other proposals will be known only when the Govt. finalizes the notification on this.

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Trade Unions will have to be prepared to see that no existing benefit is curtailed. Our struggle for implementation of the long pending demands of increase in Pension to all Pensioners, linking pension to Cost of Living Index, Restoration of Commutation of Pension and Return of Capital benefits have to be taken up effectively.

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