The proposal to grant universal number to Provident Fund account holders by the Central Government under newly launched Shrameva Jayate scheme is a welcome step. It was necessary because the account holders face so many hardships to get their PF contributions. The initiative is expected to resolve this privation. The unclaimed amount of Rs 25,000 crore lying with the PF department is also to be seen how the money is refunded. The contribution from Rs 5 to 200 is about Rs 16,000 crore. Nobody knows whether those contributors are alive or not. Therefore it will be a tough task how this amount is used.
The decision to fill just one form, instead of 16 forms now, by small scale entrepreneurs is also a welcome step. We had been demanding simplification of it for long time. It will benefit both the entrepreneurs and the workers. The workers will be able to see all their benefits at one page only. But at the same time we feel that if the entire system is made online, it will not be comfortable for the account holders. It is better if both online and manual methods are continued for some more time.
As far as the abolition of ‘Inspector Raj’ is concerned, the industry owners may be facing some problems due to the inspectors, but we feel the government should distinguish between the labour inspector and other inspectors like the sales tax, custom, excise, environment or income tax inspectors. In these matters only the owners and inspectors are two parties, but in case of labour, there are three stakeholders—the workers are also there with owners and the inspectors. When a worker cannot speak, it is the labour inspector who basically protects his interests.
The government has also announced that it is going to create about 20 lakh posts for apprenticeship under skill development. There are already 4.9 lakh seats for apprenticeship all over the country, and only 2.86 lakh seats are filled every year. The question is if today 4.9 lakh seats are not filled, how the government will fill 20 lakh seats. We fear the government may grant some back door relaxations to the owners in the name of apprenticeship. If the government is trying to take any such step that is sure to draw opposition from workers. We are not against skill upgradation or apprenticeship. We want the apprenticeship candidates should get at least minimum wage during the training period and they should not be engaged in perennial nature job. We also want that the government should ensure that the factory or company absorbs some per cent of the trainees after their training is over. It will benefit both the factory and the trainee.
The government has about Rs 17,000 crore under Employees Deposit Link Insurance (EDLI) scheme. This money too is unclaimed, as the amount is granted only in death cases. In majority cases it remains unclaimed. Today, the major post retirement problem for pensioners is medical. The BMS has suggested the government in writing that if the government uses this EDLI money for the benefit of 40 lakh pensioners by connecting them with the ESIC scheme, it will be beneficial for a large number of people. The ESIC already has such a scheme under which one has to contribute Rs 120 annually. If the government uses the EDLI amount for the benefit of the pensioners, it will require only Rs 960 crore. It can ensure medical cover to 40 lakh people for 20 years. For the new pensioners, there will make clear additional burden of about Rs 4 crore annually on the enchequer, which is a minor part of the interest that is earned on the EDLI amount. It is a proposal in which neither the government needs to spend even a single penny nor the factory owners. It is practical and the government should consider it favourably.
Pawan Kumar (The writer is north zone organising secretary of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh)