Retirement fund body EPFO has tightened the norms for initiation of its inquiries against employers and also set a time bar of seven years for such proceedings, a move which the trade unions have described as anti-worker.

The circular, which was issued by Central Provident Fund Commissioner (CPFC) R C Mishra on his last day in office (November 30), seeks to modify the provisions that result in harassment of employers and establishments.

In a worker friendly move, the circular also redefined the meaning of “basic wages” for the purpose of provident fund deductions and said, “All such allowances which are ordinarily, necessarily and uniformly paid to the employees are to be treated as the basic wages.

According to the circular, the inquiry against employers can only be initiated after, “actionable and verifiable information,” is placed for consideration before the compliance officers.

The employer, it said, would be required to make available online the complete history of the establishment for the benefit of compliance officers.

The information to be provided should include the amount remitted and the number of employees engaged by the establishment.

The order of assessment to be issued by the EPFO, it said, should be ‘speaking order’ (with reasoning) and should not suffer from procedural infirmities.

With regard to the time period for initiating inquiry, it said, “no inquiry or investigation shall ordinarily go beyond seven years, i.e., it shall cover the period of default not exceeding preceding seven years.”

The open assessment, inquiries and investigations serve no real purpose the circular said adding, “such inquiries often don’t result in identification of beneficiaries and only tend to harass the employers and establishments”.

Opposing the circular, the trade union leaders have decided to press the Government for withdrawal of the circular.

“This circular which has time-barred such inquiries is anti-worker and we would Lodge our protest with the Labour Secretary,” an EPFO trustee and Secretary Hind Mazdoor Sabha A D Nagpal told PTI.

Echoing similar views, another EPFO trustee and Secretary of All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) D L Sachdeva said, “We will demand withdrawal of this circular and soon write to Labour Secretary about this.”

EPFO has over 50 million subscribers and manages a corpus of over Rs 3.5 lakh crore.

(This article was published on December 7, 2012)
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