PF is my money, you can't keep it

PF is my money, you can't keep it

The Centre has done well to withdraw the restrictions it had imposed in February on withdrawal of provident fund before the age of 58, in the face of widespread protests from workers in Bengaluru. The government had decided not to allow such withdrawals by workers soon after they quit or lost their jobs. The new rule would have forced them to wait, sometimes for years, for a final settlement. All the workers’ unions, irre-spective of political affiliations, had opposed it. The unjust nature of the provision was writ large on it and it was no surprise that it faced virulent opposition from workers.

The agitation by the workers took on explosive and violent dimensions in Bengaluru. This was uncharacteristic because most of the aggrieved workers who took to the streets were women from the garment industry. The fact that they became agitated over the issue showed how deeply they felt about it. It was unfortunate that there was much violence and damage to public and private property during the agitation. Many people were injured. The police were obviously not ready to handle such an agitation. It was underprepared and overreacted, and was short of women personnel while the agitators were mostly women. Some of the places where the agitation took its fiercest form were the showpiece industrial hubs of Bengaluru like the Electronic City, which led to disruption of work not only in the garment units but in the hi-tech sector too. It is likely that anti-social elements took advantage of the situation, as the police claim, and created trouble. But the police were found wanting. It should learn a lesson from its poor handling of the situation, and be well prepared to face such sudden eruptions in future. It is also necessary to improve the intelligence machinery. 

The spontaneous and fiery nature of the protests, in some ways like the protests of women estate workers in Kerala last year, speaks about some deeply felt needs and insecurities of the workers. The protests spread fast without centralised planning and leadership, and probably gained momentum with mobile phone communication. Provident fund deposits are a major source of security for the workers, and the new rule threatened to deprive them of the benefit of their most important security scheme. The less than ideal working conditions in most workplaces added to the fear and scare. All this played out in the milieu of a general sense of insecurity being felt by the working class. The government also has a lesson: Reform measures or decisions need to be accepted by those whose interests are involved in them.

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