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A wage earner faces a situation of wages chasing prices. Some are fortunate enough to receive wages overtaking the escalating prices. Some are able to contain by the indexing of payments adopted in advanced countries. Some are virtually drowned or find it difficult to keep afloat. We the pensioners of Peoples Bank belong to the last category.

Our problems can be grouped under four heads:
A. There was no revision of pensions commensurate with the triennial revision of the salaries of the current colleagues. The most senior pensioners would have been deprived of the benefits of a minimum of eight salary revisions. The sum total of these revisions have successfully raised the salaries of our junior colleagues to class them easily as the highest paid state employees may be equal or a close second to the more coveted and lucrative medical profession.

In this, it may not be out of place to say pension revisions are not an unknown phenomenon in our country. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka pensioners enjoy it. So do the peoples’ representatives. In advanced countries indexing of pensions is the accepted method to ensure that the pensioners receive a pension to meet all relevant changes and variations in the factors that affect their cost of living. It has been suggested for very good reasons that we should base the pension on the current salary of the parallel staff in service, and to replace the existing practice of basing the last drawn salary of the retiree. That would have eradicated many a problem and embarrassment.

B. The Variable Cost of Living Allowance which is the cushion provided for meeting the escalating prices has been freezed as at the retiring date for the retirees after June 1996. Those who retired before June 1996 continue to enjoy the VCOLA but they were denied the 5% increase in the maximum pension entitlement of 90% of the last drawn gross salary and the concession of not being subjected to deduction of commuted pension.

Those who retired after June 1996 were given the 5% additive and non-recovery of the commuted pension but denied the VCOLA. The small increase and the non-deduction have been swept away by the denial of that allowance for the rapidly escalating Cost of Living, the very cushion devised and extended to all wage earners. This freezing robs the pension entitlement of a substantial amount now amounting to Rs.26,000 pm.

C. Surviving spouses of public servants continue to receive the deceased spouses’ full pension. The Central Bank follows it with their best of both worlds’ policy, the ideal behind the corporate sector which stopped short of staff welfare in other corporate sectors. Bank of Ceylon adopts the 50% of the deceased spouses’ pension and we in People’s Bank extend only a niggardly 20% and on top of it the denial of the VCOLA is also superimposed. Thus we think that the surviving spouses are the worst hit.

D. The salary revision based on the collective agreement is the mutually agreed method that ensures industrial peace. This has never been extended to the retirees for they apparently lack the devise utilized by those in harness. They apparently have neither the muscle power nor the political backing of the parties they are affiliated to, nor are the members active or vibrant enough to make the case heard at the proper quarters.

Pensioners few years back were few and the survivors for long too were fewer. Now the number has swelled to over 6,000 in People’s Bank alone and there are active nonagenarians. The senior citizens in the country will be in the region of 50% of the population in a couple of decades. It is high time this crucial number presents a unified voice preferably with the active support of the current junior colleagues in service, who are destined to be retirees and swell the numbers, may be sooner than later.

It is an issue that should have occupied a higher slot in the agenda of the trade unions affiliated to the different political conglomerations to ensure that the benefits of salary revision and other staff benefits are passed on to the pensioners as well simultaneously and preferably intact.