Instead of introducing a tax system we witness the imposition of fines on the people says Wasantha
Would the maiden budget of the government be instrumental in fulfilling promises made to the nation together with assurances of lifting economic burdens shouldered by the people is a question that is receiving mixed responses from politicos and the public alike. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, the Convener for Voice against Corruption, Wasantha Samarasinghe said that the government should consider amending the budget proposals with a people friendly approach. Excerpts of the interview are given below.
Q Do you think that the maiden budget proposed by the “Yahapalana” government complies with the government manifesto? Does this budget maintain a fair stance with regard to all sectors in the country?
The “Good Governance” government has failed in its promises to the people with the new budget proposed for next year. Instead of introducing a tax system what we witness is the imposition of fines on the people. From farmers to plantation workers, rubber smallholders to large scale industrialists and the private sector, everyone is severely affected by this budget that includes a lot of things that were not mentioned in the government manifesto. It is is totally contrary to what the President Sirisena and the Premier Wickremesinghe said during the last presidential election. Through Budget 2016, the government is attempting to achieve their ulterior goals at the expense of the public.
"Back in 2001, the UNP-led government tried to remove the pension scheme of public sector employees. Now they are proposing to introduce a new pension scheme with effect from 2016. We disapprove the government’s attempts to amend the pension scheme. The government is violating labour laws by introducing amendments to it"
Q What is your opinion of the administration of free trade zones?
The UNP has again commenced to show its true colours by trying to promote privatisation in the country. We as trade unionists vehemently object to the privatisation of government institutions. The aim of this budget is to hand over the administration of free trade zones to the private sector. The government is planning to privatise the BOI and fifty other government institutions. We strongly object to those plans.
Q Are you confident that private sector employees would get the salary hike of Rs. 2,500 as promised by the government?
The government has twice cheated private sector employees concerning a Rs. 2,500 salary increment. Although the government has finally acceded to give Rs. 2, 500 in two instalments we have doubts it would come true. They say that an initial instalment of Rs. 1, 500 followed by another amounting to Rs. 1, 000 would be paid to employees in the private sector. It has been a number of months since this government came to power and if they couldn’t attend to this issue then, what is the guarantee they can attend to it now?
Q How will the budget affect employees in both private and public sectors? What do you have to say about the government’s proposal to implement a five-day week for private sector employees and the change in working hours?
One of the serious issues we encounter with the budget concerns employees and how Budget 2016 would affect them. The government has taken decisions regarding private sector employees in an irresponsible manner. They have proposed to change the eight- hour working roster although no government has the right to do so. If the government had the authority to change the working roster, they should have proposed six-hour work days. The joint government has no right to amend the current 8- hour working schedule.
"There is an inflow of 300, 000 unemployed individuals into the job market every year. It is a known fact that the private sector creates more job opportunities. However this budget is not favourable to the private sector"
Q Do you believe this budget has closed doors to the creation of more jobs?
Yes, there is an inflow of 300, 000 unemployed individuals into the job market every year. It is a known fact that the private sector creates more job opportunities. However, this budget is not favourable to the private sector. Consequently, there will be a drop in the number of available jobs.
Q It was proposed to merge the Employees’ Provident Fund and the Employees’ Trust Fund. Do you think that the ‘Venture Capital’ approach is economic-friendly and beneficial to private sector employees?
Private sector employees are entitled to EPF and ETF but the government is attempting to amalgamate both Funds to create a Venture Capital fund and provide loans to businessmen. So it will not benefit the private sector by any means. The present government is trying to follow the previous regime that also tried to collect private sector funds and invest in the share market. We strongly oppose this proposal and request the government not to merge the EPF and ETF.
Q The government has proposed to introduce a new pension scheme with effect from 2016 for new pensioners. What are your views regarding this proposal?
Back in 2001, the UNP-led government tried to remove the pension scheme of public sector employees. Now they are proposing to introduce a new pension scheme with effect from 2016. We disapprove the government’s attempts to amend the pension scheme. The government is violating labour laws by introducing amendments to it.
"The budget doesn’t favourably approach the problems of ordinary citizens nor private and public sector employees"
Q Can you justify your claim the government is introducing labour law reforms through Budget 2016?
It is quite transparent the government is attempting to amend labour laws. They cannot propose to establish a new pension scheme, merge the EPF and ETF or change working hours scheduled per day without introducing amendments to labour law. If they need to do, they should have first consulted the trade unions that represent the country’s workforce. We will agree to these amendments only after a proper discussion is held with employees and only if it is brought to the notice of the National Labour Advisory Council. However’ it must be noted that we will not comply with these decisions if they are amended to gratify the wishes of employers. Private sector employers were the ones who wanted to change working shifts of employees and the government is clearing the way for them.
Q Do you think that the government would concede to requests made by trade unions?
Considering this budget, there are many issues such as the fertiliser subsidy, uniform vouchers and the lack of benefits to the fisheries industry. The budget doesn’t favourably approach the problems of ordinary citizens nor private and public sector employees. It is a pity that they propose to indirectly levy a tax for the very air we breathe with the increased import tax on electric cars. This is ironical when the government says we should work towards environmental conservation. If the government doesn’t amend budget proposals in favour of the public or fails to take heed our requests, we will be forced to take up trade union action to make our voices heard.