Well over 18,000 employees of group B, C and D cadre working in regional offices of Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) across India staged a one-day strike on August 28, to press for their demands that have remained unfulfilled since 2015. The strike was organised under the banner of All India Employees Provident Fund Staff Federation (AIEPFSF) in protest against the management’s ‘indifference’ on various that have been raised by the union in 80 letters in the past three months.
A Newsclick team visited the EPFO complex in Dwarka Sector 23, where around 250 employees were on strike outside the building hoping to force the management to pay heed to their demands.
“All we have been asking for is to fill up the vacancies so that our workload gets reduced,” said one employee, who now clears 80 pension claims a day which earlier used to be around 30.
According to AIEPFSF General Secretary R Krupakaran, there are roughly 3,000 vacancies that are yet to be filled in these cadres. On top of that, in the recent past even the sanctioned strength of Social Security Assistants – usually a Group C cadre whose job profile include work related to pension accounts, recovery, RTI among other things – have seen a decrease in thousands despite increase in the amount of work.
While there’s ever-increasing pressure of work in the office, the workers are also deprived of any motivation as many of them have been waiting for a promotion for years now which has affected their morale.
“I have been working in EPFO organisation as a Group C employee since 29 years,” said an employee who took part in the strike, “and I am still on the same post as when I joined.”
When asked, some other employees said that a Group A staff become eligible for a promotion after three to four years of service; however, as far as the lower groups were concerned, no such provisions were in place, or if there were, they were not getting implemented properly. A sense of incomprehension regarding the promotions prevailed among the employees.
“The situation has worsened with direct recruitments to higher positions through examinations,” said Krupakaran, “… though we understand the necessity for such recruitments, these are unacceptable when our cadre’s promotions are being compromised.”
According to him, at present, all the higher posts are occupied through direct recruitments as opposed to the stipulated requirement of employing only half of them through such procedures and the other half through promotions from the lower groups.
The agitation of the EPF employees started in 2015 when recommendations by the Anomaly Redressal-cum-Implementation Committee, which involved cadre restructuring measures, were approved by the Central Board of Trustees (CBT) – EPFO’s apex tripartite decision-making body that includes trade union representatives – but presumably were put in a cold storage. Since then, the federation has been consistently demanding its implementation, and have attended numerous meetings with officials, reminding them about the promises that were made.
Finally, on January 10 this year, the management agreed to resolve all the ‘legitimate’ demands of the federation “within short time frame”. However, the situation didn’t change.
In the meantime, the staff continued facing severe work pressure – prevalent due to acute shortage. The employees that Newsclick spoke to alleged that the staff was denied leave, even on medical grounds, employees were called on Saturday, Sunday and even Gazetted Holidays and above all, “punishment transfers” were inflicted on individuals who raised their voice against this exploitation.
Left with no other option, the union began a nation-wide agitation programme on August 1 under which demonstrations and other forms of protests are being at every regional office by the EPF employees of group B, C and D cadres. Showcasing their solidarity to the struggle, the employees started wearing black badges since August 19 and intensified their lunch-hour demonstration and also decided to observe an one-day strike on August 28, with a resolve to go on an indefinite strike if the situation remains the same.
An employee summarised the dejection that the protesting EPF employees across India have gone through, narrating the “mysterious” suicide of a PF employee in Jamshedpur last month. Though the police have lodged a case of murder, the employee believed that he must have committed suicide due to increasing work pressure.
“We won’t be surprised if that would be the reason because, now even we are tired of it,” the employee added.