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Talking Point 1 - Universal Pension to All! Strengthen EPS-95! Raise Minimum Pension in EPS! Scrap NPS! Restore OPS!

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Talking Point – 1

 Mazdoor-Kisan Sangharsh Rally-2

CITU-AIKS-AIAWU

5th April 2022

 

 

Pension is not charity. It is a basic right of people who have contributed all their lives to the development of society, to lead dignified lives in their old age without being at the mercy of others. It is the responsibility of any elected government to ensure universal old age pension to all its citizens.

India does not have any universal social security system to protect its working people.

Several pension schemes do exist covering different sections of population like the non-governmental organised sector workers, the government employees, farmers, unorganised workers etc. On the whole, all these schemes taken together are estimated to cover only 58 million people, or around 12% of the workforce, according to the 2011 census. The 2020 National Commission on Population report estimated that there will be nearly 13.8 crore elderly people (persons aged 60 or more) in India in 2021.

Instead of extending coverage and improving benefits, the governments committed to the neoliberal order that have been trying to squeeze and curtail pension benefits.

Let us have a look at the existing pension schemes, their coverage and how this hard won right of the working people is being diluted.

EPS

The Employees’ Pension Scheme (EPS) is implemented by the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation that manages the EPF of the workers. Only the workers’ money from the provident fund is heavily diverted to the pension fund. Employers practically do not contribute anything to the pension fund as it is only their statutory share to the provident fund that goes to the pension fund.

It is estimated that 26 crore workers were members of EPFO as on March 2021. But on an average, only 4.6 crore members were actively contributing. The number of pensioners under EPS was only 69.2 lakhs. Not all, but only low income EPFO subscribers are covered by pension. Not all workers earning above Rs 15000 per month are covered by pension.

Modi led BJP government has been trying to deprive the workers even of the limited benefits under the EPS. It announced its intention to tax EPF amounts, but had to withdraw after massive protests. Then, it announced that workers cannot withdraw their own money in EPF accounts till their superannuation, but had to withdraw this decision too because of strong opposition from workers. But despite opposition from all central trade unions, it is investing 15% of annual accruals in the share market and is planning to increase the same. The interest rates of EPF corpus have been continuously reduced. This reduction of interest rates in all the saving schemes is aimed at driving the funds to the share market.

The EPF and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952 has been subsumed under the Code on Social Security, which proposes to reduce the contribution rate of both employers and workers to 10% from the present 12%. The workers can contribute more than 10% if she/he desires, but the employer has no obligation to pay more than 10%, thus enabling the employers covered by the EPF Act to save hundreds of crores of rupees. In addition, huge numbers of establishments and employers are left uncovered by EPF

EPFO had given an option of EPF and EPS contributions beyond the wage ceilings i.e. for the full wages, if employee and employer had agreed. This was in existence till August 2014. But many workers who had contributed for full wages were not getting increased pension. Though the Supreme Court provided some relief to the workers, the government is not willing to comply and only issued a toothless circular to obfuscate its failure to implement the Supreme Court judgment in letter and spirit.

Over time, EPS 95 has become a mockery; so far minimum admissible pension is concerned. Lakhs of workers are getting less than Rs 100 per month as pension. As the demand for increasing minimum pension became widespread, the UPA II government decided to increase minimum pension to Rs 1000, but failed to implement it. The present NDA government started implementing it in 2014, but with some conditionalities and formulae to keep pension as lower as possible. Large numbers of pensioners are still getting less than Rs.1000/a month as pension despite the relentless persuasion of the trade unions and pensioners to hike pension amount.   

In August 2019, the CBT recommended that minimum monthly pension payable to member/widow/widower pensioners may be raised to at least to Rs.2000 per month provided the government of India extends budgetary support for the same on yearly basis. But that was put on cold storage. In March 2021, the Standing Committee on Labour also recommended to increase the minimum pension amount from Rs 1000 to Rs 3000.

The demand of for monthly pension of Rs 9000 is based on the premise of pension being 50% of the last drawn salary and takes into the statutory minimum wage of 18000 per month announced by the Central government to its employees.

NPS

Till 2003, government employees were covered by the Old Pension System (OPS). Under OPS, on retirement, employees who worked for ten years or more, received 50% of their last drawn basic pay plus dearness allowance or their average earnings in the last ten months of service, whichever was more advantageous to them, as pension. OPS was discontinued by the BJP led NDA government in December 2003. The New Pension System (NPS) came into existence on 1 April 2004.

Until then, the pension system for government employees are pay-as-you-go defined benefit plan. Defence and railway employees, seamen, coal miners, Assam Tea Plantations, and some public sector entities had their own independent pension plans on par with the central government employees.

Under the NPS, those employed by the government contribute 10 percent of their basic salary to NPS, while their employers contribute up to 14 percent. Private sector employees can also participate in the NPS voluntarily, although some rules have changed. NPS is basically a market linked, defined contribution scheme without defined benefits and guaranteed pension. All central trade unions and government employees’ associations have been opposing the NPS and are on war path since its introduction. Because of their consistent struggle some state governments have decided to restore the OPS. But the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority is not ready to return back the money that was so collected in the name of NPS to these states.

Pension for farmers

Under Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maandhan Yojana, a voluntary and contributory pension scheme, the small and marginal farmers having not more than two hectares of land can avail a monthly fixed pension after attaining the age of 60 years. They have to contribute Rs 55 to Rs 200 per month, depending upon their age, to the pension fund managed by LIC. Modi had announced this scheme in 2019 with his patent rhetoric that it would cover five crore farmers. But, as of now, only 21.4 lakhs farmers are enrolled.

Pension for unorganised workers including Agricultural Workers

Just before the 2019 general elections Modi announced what he claimed is a ‘mega pension scheme’, the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan for unorganised workers including agricultural workers. This is also a voluntary and contributory scheme where workers in the 18 -- 40 years age group have to contribute Rs 55 to Rs 200 per month till they attain the age of 60, after which she/he would receive a minimum assured pension of Rs 3000/- per month

There are approximately 42 crore unorganised workers in the country. But so far only 43.98 lakh people have been enrolled in this so called ‘mega pension scheme’!

Other pension schemes

Rs 200 per month is given as old age pension to BPL persons aged 60 and above under Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) under the National Social Assistance programme (NSAP). The NSAP covers around 4.2 crore beneficiaries.

Here it is pertinent to mention that some state governments have been paying Rs 2000 or more as old age pension in their respective states without any contributions from the beneficiaries at all. Kerala Government is paying Rs1600 to all senior citizens including EPF pensioners who are getting less than Rs 1000 pension from EPF-95 scheme.

Life insurance sector has a core beneficiaries of around 1.0 crore. Mutual funds have about 27 lakh folios. Other entities such as coal miners have about 20 lakh provident fund beneficiaries.

Private pension funds

Under the current neoliberal regime private pension fund companies are getting entrenched. They have been advocating to get rid of government guaranteed pension schemes. The corporate servile Modi regime is doing everything to dismantle the state assured pension schemes and allowing private pension merchants, including foreign pension funds to loot the workers and the people. International finance capital and its political operatives are hell bent to swallow the entire available corpus of the pension funds throwing the pensioners to the mercy of global financial markets!

 

Hence, CITU, AIKS, AIAWU demand; -

 

  • Universal pension to all old aged population not less than Rs. 3000 per month
  • Scrap the NPS; restore OPS
  • On EPS-95 we demands
  • Increase government contribution to the EPS-95 from the existing 1.16%of basic wages (basic pay plus dearness allowance) to 8.33% as recommended by the Parliament Committee on Petition headed by Shri Bhagat Singh Koshiyari.
  • Implement the Supreme Court Judgment dated 4-11-2022 on EPS-95
  • Exclusive contribution to pension fund by the employers
  • Minimum monthly pension of not less than Rs.9000
  • No statutory wage ceiling on pensionable salary; it should be the last drawn pay and not the average of 60 months
  • Indexation of pension.
  • Universal coverage of all workers irrespective of wages and number of workers employed.
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