May 01, 2016

Fight Anti-Worker Measures

After widespread opposition from workers and employees and protests by all trade unions and even the NDA allies of the BJP, the finance minister was forced to withdraw the proposal even before discussions began in parliament. Following this, the government made steep cuts in interest rates on small savings schemes like the Public Provident Fund, National Savings Certificate and Post Office Savings. While the interest rate on PPF and savings of senior citizens were reduced by 0.6 percent and in the case of post office deposits, interests have been lowered in the range of 0.6 to 1.3 percent. This reduction in interest rates in small savings has hit the working people and middle class badly as bulk of their savings are in small savings schemes. Here again, the purpose is to drive these savings into market based funds. The latest in these attacks is the reduction of interest rate for EPF by the finance ministry, despite the unanimous recommendation by the Central Board of Trustees of EPFO and availability of funds to further increase the rate. Efforts to appropriate the EPF funds continued. On March 18, the finance ministry notified the establishment of the Senior Citizens Welfare Fund comprising of unclaimed deposits in small savings schemes in Post Office Savings accounts, Public Provident Fund and EPF to be transferred to the aforesaid fund. The EPF money cannot be transferred by any notification like this. The identical proposal of “appropriating Rs 6,000 crores from EPF” were there in the last year’s budget and the trade unions’ representatives in the Central Board of Trustees had unanimously opposed it in the CBT meeting held on March 11, 2015. The current notification of the government, as far as the EPF is concerned, is legally and ethically wrong. Not having learnt any lessons from the fiasco of the move to tax EPF withdrawals, the government notified amendments to rules on EPF withdrawals in February this year. This notification stated that in the case of withdrawal before superannuation, due to loss of employment, resignation etc, workers can withdraw only their part of the contribution and “employer’s contribution” in the EPF could be withdrawn only at the age of 58. This was opposed by the trade unions and they demanded that option be given to the workers to decide upon withdrawal or retaining the money in the EPF. When this amendment was sought to be implemented, it met with stiff resistance from the workers. The huge protests by workers, particularly women workers in Bengaluru and the protests in Visakhapatnam have forced the government to announce withdrawal of the notification. The workers have foiled the attempt of the government to deprive them of part of the money accruing to them in the EPF. These anti-working class measures have come in the background of the serious steps being taken by the Modi government to dilute and weaken the various labour laws. One such bill expected to be taken up in parliament is the amendments to the Factories Act. The amendments, if adopted, will take away more than 75 percent of the industrial workforce out of the purview of the Act by changing the definition of factory. All factories with workforce up to 40 will be out of the purview of the Factories Act. A new bill is to be brought for small factories, ie, for those upto 40 workers. That bill states that 14 basic labour laws will not be applicable to small factories. The Modi government is taking all these anti-working class measures in the name of ensuring “ease of business” and the dubious claim that they will increase employment. The working class movement is opposing all these anti-labour measures vigorously. The Central Trade Unions have given a call for a general strike on September 2 against all these anti-working class measures and other demands. The fight put up by the working class is a vital part of the struggle against the increasing authoritarianism of the Modi government. (April 26, 2016)