FOLLOWING a meeting with representatives of sugar factories in Maharashtra last month, the regional Employees Provident Fund (EPF) office in Solapur has asked 61 sugar factories in Solapur, Osmanabad and Latur districts to extend EPF benefits to labourers engaged in sugarcane cutting and transportation.
Officials from the regional EPF office in Solapur said all these 61 sugar factories were last week directed to start remittance of EPF dues. Of the 61 sugar factories, 41 are in Solapur, 12 in Latur and 8 in Osmanabad. In these three districts, there are approximately 80,000 sugarcane labourers involved in sugarcane cutting activity, said an official.
“The representatives of the factories said at the meeting in November that the issue had been raised in 2003 and later closed. We had asked them to provide documents about this, which were not submitted. However, we found that the Central EPF office in Delhi had clearly said in 2002 that EPF should be made applicable to sugarcane labourers.
In response to a query from the Solapur EPF office, the Delhi office again clarified that EPF is indeed applicable and asked us to start enrolling these employees to avail the benefits,” said a senior EPFO official, adding that action was not taken previously due to pressure from the sugar lobby.
The official further said the issue of whether sugarcane labourers are entitled to EPF was also discussed in 2002. “The Delhi office clearly said there is a relationship of employer and employees between sugar factories and sugarcane labourers. Hence, they should be given the benefits of EPF,” added the official.
Another official said payments to sugarcane labourers are reflected in the balance sheets of the factories. “It is clear that the factories make payments through contractors to sugarcane labourers. So, the EPF for these workers should be deducted from the payments and deposited as EPF,” said the official.
In November, the Solapur EPF office held a meeting with sugar factories asking them to start EPF remittances. The factories had objected saying the sugarcane labourers are not employees of the factories. The factories also said it is the responsibility of the sugarcane cultivator to transport the sugarcane from his field to the factory and they merely help them in that work by engaging mukadams or contractors.
The sugar factories are now expected to approach the Maharashtra State Co-Operative Sugar Factories Federation, an apex body of sugar factories in the state, to resolve the issue. “It is a larger issue that needs to be addressed by the federation,” said a senior office-bearer of a sugar factory in Solapur, requesting anonymity.
Another representative said the state government is in the process of setting up a welfare board for sugarcane workers and this issue can be addressed therein. Hemant Tirpude, regional EPF commissioner, Solapur, said sugar factories have been given seven days’ time for extending EPF benefits to sugarcane labourers. “If they do not
act on it, then we will start issuing show cause notices and will take further legal action,” said Tirpude.
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