Unions ask govt. not to meddle with EPF and ETF

... threaten to take to the streets

By Dasun Edirisinghe

Opposition politicians and trade unionists yesterday expressed their strong opposition to a government move to set up a common fund by merging Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) and Employees Trust Fund (ETF) under the cover of introducing a pension scheme for the private sector employees.

JVP North Central Provincial Council member and Chairman of the Inter Company Employees Union Wasantha Samarasinghe told The Island that the workers would take to the streets if the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government laid its hands on the EPF and ETF like the previous Rajapaksa government.

He accused the Rajapaksa government of having invested huge sums from the two funds in the stock market in an irresponsible manner.

"The total worth of both funds were Rs. 1,400 billion in 2012 and it has increased by millions during last three years," Samarasinghe said, adding that they would not allow the government to misuse the funds belonging to workers.

If the government had a real need to introduce a pension scheme for private sector employees there had to be a scheme similar to what the public servants got at present, he said.

The JVP trade unionist said if the government went ahead with its proposals that would be the end of Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration.

Leader of the Sri Lanka Communist Party and former Minister D. E. W. Gunasekera said he was fully against the removal of the EPF and ETF from the purview of the Central Bank. "I have no idea about the government’s proposed fund to be set up by merging the EPF and the ETF, but the safest place for both funds is the Central Bank," he said.

Gunasekera said when the EPF was introduced in 1958, the then Parliament had decided that the safest place for it was the Central Bank.

General Secretary of Ceylon Teachers’ Union Joseph Stalin said the government had no right to dip into the EPF and ETF according to its whims and fancies as they belonged to the workers and the government was only its custodian.

He said they had demanded a pension scheme for the private sector employees, but it should be at the expense of the EPF and the ETF.

"The previous government was to introduce a pension scheme for the private sector employees in the wrong way and it had been stopped following the death of an intrepid worker at the Katunayake Export Processing Zone during a police crackdown on a workers’ protest," Stalin said, noting that the present government, too, was moving in the same direction.

The veteran trade unionist said the government had to discuss with all trade unions, employees and employers who contributed to the fund if it was to make any change to the EPF and the ETF.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said in Parliament that the government proposed to introduce a new fund by merging the EPF and the ETF to facilitate the private sector pension scheme.

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