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Pension scheme bypasses 40pc population: CPD

Mannan unveils plan for post-retirement benefits

FE REPORT | November 07, 2019 00:00:00

More than 40 per cent of the nearly eight million old-age people do not receive any pension.

In contrast, only 10 per cent private sector employees receive some kind of gratuity or provident fund.

This post-retirement situation was revealed at a seminar on the introduction of universal pension system in the country.

Speaking at the seminar, planning minister MA Mannan said the government wants to introduce universal pension scheme in the country.

A small cell at the Finance Division has been working on it, Mr Mannan said.

The minister was speaking as the chief guest at the seminar organised jointly by local think tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Oxfam.

The discussion on universal pension scheme was held at a city hotel at Gulshan.

"We can't set the amount of pension so high that everyone stays home without working and their contribution to the economy declines," he said.

Former information minister Abul Kalam Azad joined the discussion as the special guest while Professor Mustafizur Rahman presented the keynote paper.

Taking part in the discussion, labour leaders said a large number of manufacturing units cannot pay monthly salary on time and it remains to be seen how they can provide pension or provident fund facilities.

In response, owners of the clothing sector said that the allegations over irregular pay may be true for some non-compliant industrial units.

The owners argued that they had proposed setting up contributory provident fund, but clothing workers are not interested in it.

Sirajul Islam Rony, president of the Bangladesh National Employees' League, said that employees even do not get regular wages in many clothing factories.

"The workers do not get service benefit," he said. "How can we be hopeful about the pension system?" he asked.

Mr Rony, who was a member of the government-instituted minimum wage board, said in most cases, factories conduct "tricky" audit that look OK in relation to the employees' benefits.

In reply, Rokeya Quader, chairman at the Desh Group of Companies, said all compliant companies pay wages and other service benefits timely. "If we fail to comply, our buyers will not place orders."

She also said the turnover rate in the clothing sector is high, for which employees are not interested in the post-retirement plan.

Md Fazlul Azim, a former lawmaker and businessman, said that they had moved to form a provident fund, but the workers rejected it.

He underlined the need for raising awareness about post-retirement benefits among the workers.

Many speakers called for defining the universal pension. "Will all workers get it? What will be the status about who never participated in the labour force? There is a need for clear-cut definition," Ali Ahmed Rushdi, former professor of economics at the University of Dhaka,said

Economists who were present at the function said that the questions related to the affordability of such type of pension should be addressed first.

Dr Zahid Hussain, a former World Bank economist, said the main challenges are the affordability and sustainability.

Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, who moderated the programme, said Bangladesh is now a middle-income country, but a quarter of its population remains below the poverty level.

"The financial fate of around 50 per cent people remained uncertain," Mr Bhattcharya said while explaining the vulnerabilities of the population.

"We don't expect to see such a middle-income country," he added.

Some insurance executives, who were present, said that the universal pension system cannot be introduced under the existing pension products they run.

While presenting the keynote paper, Mr Rahman said a universal pension law will need to be enacted, which will create the scope for forming a universal pension fund authority in Bangladesh.

He said the government may introduce a non-contributory pension scheme financed through the government budgetary allocation.

He said such type of pension will guarantee a minimum income security to all senior citizens. He said a total of 186 countries around the world, including the Maldives, have adopted this type of pension system.

Mr Rahman also stressed the need for legal and policy reforms to go ahead with the plan.

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