The Life of Labour: Jaitley Lowers EPF Interest Rates; 3941 Factory Workers Died Over Three Years

A roundup of news from the world of work 

Participants shout slogans during a protest against the government's plan to curb EPF withdrawals. Credit: PTI

Participants shout slogans during a protest against the government’s plan to curb EPF withdrawals. Credit: PTI

Finance Ministry fixes interest rate on Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) at 8.7%, trade unions call it “anti-labour”

Trade unions are furious at the finance ministry’s decision to fix interest rates for Employees’ Provident Fund EPF at 8.7% for 2015-16, and are planning protest demonstrations across the country. This is perhaps the first time that a decision by the EPF organisation’s central board of trustees (CBT) has not concurred with the finance ministry. The CBT, an independent and autonomous body headed by the labour minister, had proposed an interest rate of 8.8% to be credited into the accounts of EPF subscribers, but the “Ministry of Finance has, however, ratified an interest rate of 8.7 per cent,” said Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya in a written reply to the Lok Sabha yesterday.

“The Finance Ministry has no role to encroach in decisions of CBT. It is the money of workers, the government is not contributing a single paisa. Government should be encouraging small savers. Even if the government decided to pay 8.95 per cent interest rate, it will save Rs 100 crore. We will hold demonstrations at all EPFO offices nationwide till the decision is rolled back,” Virjesh Upadhyay, CBT member and general secretary of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, told The Indian Express.

The labour ministry is now planning to seek a review of the finance ministry’s decision.

Gujarat salt manufacturers call off strike after government assurance

Salt manufacturers in Gujarat have postponed a strike against the state government’s plan to introduce VAT on industrial salt from the current fiscal year.

“Leaders of Namak Satyagrah Samiti (NSS), a group formed by salt manufacturers of the state met Rupani, who is also Minister of Labour and Employment and Saurabh Patel in Gandhinagar. After the meeting, the NSS postponed its three-day strike,” reports The Indian Express. The NSS says the government’s response to their demands was “positive”.

The salt cultivators allege that the government’s calculation of collecting five crore rupees annually through VAT was flawed, and also “maintaining separate records for industrial and edible salt was not feasible as there was no such distinction at the manufacturing stage”. They also fear that it would lead to an “inspector raj” system as most salt cultivators are not familiar with even basic computing and hence it would be difficult for them to keep records.

Gujarat produces 180 lakh metric tonne of salt annually and contributes nearly 70% of the  salt produced in India.

Government to consider amending Factories Act after 3941 workers died during 2012-14

Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya said in the Lok Sabha that 3,941 workers had died in factories during the 2012-14 period, while also stressing that many initiatives for workplace safety were underway and that they are also considering amending the Factories Act.

“Various schemes are being implemented by the Ministry of Labour and Employment for the safety, health and environment at work place of workers,” he said.

During the three-year period, the total number of fatal and non-fatal injuries in factories stood at 84,518. “We are providing other benefits also. In order to ensure that these accidents do not take place, we are considering amending the Factories Act also,” PTI quoted Dattatreya as saying.

Labour ministry asks RBI to examine Workers’ Bank proposal 

“The Labour Ministry has asked the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to form a panel headed by a former Deputy Governor of the central bank to look into a proposal of creating a Workers’ Bank using Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF),” reports The Hindu.

The proposal for a Wokers’ Bank was put forward by a trade union about a decade ago and is modelled on similar initiatives in other countries where a collective pension fund system invests worker’s savings in various markets. The labour ministry has also sought the opinion of the department of financial services in the finance ministry on the proposal.

Coffee ‘slaves’: workers’ abuse revealed in Brazil

In Brazil, the world’s biggest producer of coffee, working conditions on some plantations have been described as “slave-like”. Watch this two-and-a-half-minute video by Al Jazeera with testimonies from workers and more:

Do you know of any other development we should highlight in this column? Write to me at [email protected]

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