SLTB employees up in arms against their fund being used

Tuesday, 12 June 2012 00:57 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By S.S. Selvanayagam

The Deputy Solicitor General gave undertakings that the gratuity payments of the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB) employees would not be paid using the Approved Provident Fund (APF) monies of the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) employees until 10 July.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice Shirani A. Bandaranayake and Justices P.A. Ratnayake and Priyasath Dep directed that the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the SLTB should be noticed.

Petitioners K.M. Priyantha, N.A. Meegammana and H. Chandrapala who are employees of the SLTB as well as members of the APF in their fundamental rights petition are seeking an Interim Order from the Court to restrain the Respondents from making gratuity to those former employees of the SLTB who have instituted or are to institute proceedings against SLTB from and out of the monies of the APF which are lying to the credit of that Fund or which have now been transferred to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).

They cited SLTB, its Chairman, Members of the Board of Directors of SLTB, Members of the Committee of Management of the APF, Members of the Cabinet of Ministers, Secretary to the Cabinet of Ministers, Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, Commissioner General of Labour, Secretary to the Treasury and the Attorney General as Respondents.

Saliya Pieris with Anjana Ratnasiri instructed by Sanath Wijewardena appeared for the Petitioners. Kuvera de Soyza appeared for the SLTB. Deputy Solicitor General Sanjay Rajaratnam appeared for the Cabinet of Ministers. Priyantha Jayawardena appeared for Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa.

The Petitioners inter alia state as follows:

In 1958, the CTB was established and the Provident Fund of CTB was also established. In 1978, the Sri Lanka Central Transport Board (SLCTB) and the APF was reconstituted. The employees of SLCTB and the Regional Transport Board (RTB) were members of the APF.

In 1991, several RTB were converted into Peoplised Transport Companies (PTC) and the employees of the CTB and the RTB became employees of the said PTC. With the establishment of PTCs, the employees of the PTCs ceased to be members of the APF.

The said employees were paid their full benefits from the APF and also paid compensation, gratuity and Employees’ Trust Fund ETF at the time of the said transition.

Since there were not enough funds in the APF to pay the said benefits to the employees of the PTCs, upon request made by the predecessor to the SLTB, a sum of Rs 1,500 million were issued to the APF by the Treasury.

After paying the said benefits, a sum of Rs. 184 million (out of the additional 1,500 rupees) remained in the APF and has been invested by the APF which has since increased up to approximately Rs. 663 million as at 1010.

Apart from that, there existed other contributions in the said APF and also accumulated interest which were held in trust for the members of the said APF.

Since, 1991, the employees of the PTCs became members of the EPF. In 1997, the said employees became employees of Cluster Bus Companies (CBC). The Petitioners and other members of the APF remained employees of the Transport Board right throughout to date.

In 2005, the CTB and all CBCs were constituted as the SLTB and the Petitioners became employees of the SLTB with effect from 19 October 2005. Petitioners claim that they are thus entitled to continue as members of the APF and contend that the Respondents are obliged in law to continue and to maintain and regulate the APF subject to the provisions of the EPF Act and other laws and regulations.

Petitioners state that there are approximately 2,800 active members in the said APF including the Petitioners.

The Petitioners lament that on 23 June 2010, the Minister of Transport has sought permission to obtain a sum of Rs. 233 million to pay the due gratuity for the employees of the SLTB but in law such gratuity has to be paid by the SLTB who is the employer. In December 2010, a sum of Rs. 663,584,741 was released from the APF to the SLTB.

Petitioners bemoan the process by which the APF has been terminated and the monies transferred to the EPF, the Petitioners and others similarly circumstanced are being deprived of the full benefits that they would have been entitled under the APF.

They contend an employer is liable to pay gratuity to his workmen upon termination of their services, therefore the Cabinet decision to pay gratuity to those who have instituted proceedings or are to institute proceedings seeking payments of gratuity from the SLTB from and out of the monies lying in the APF is violation of the provisions of the Payment of Gratuity Act.

They blame what is sought to done is for the SLTB to be absolved from its liability to pay gratuity by making such payments from the funds of the APF, now transferred to the EPF.

They allege the SLTB, as the employer, has failed to pay the EPF contributions and the Commissioner General of Labour himself has admitted that there is arrears of Rs 1,300 million.

They also point out that the Cabinet of Ministers is not empowered in law to take a decision under the EPF Act and such power vested in the Commissioner General of Labour only if he is dissatisfied with the management of any APF and he cannot abdicate his authority.

They are seeking the Court to direct the APF be restored and that all funds which were lying in favour of the said Fund and which have been transferred to the EPF be restored to the APF.