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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trade unions reject proposal to discuss Employees' State Insurance (Amendment) Bill

ET Bureau | 13 Aug, 2015, 02.06PM IST
In a blow to government's intent to open huge business opportunities for private insurers, the trade unions have outright rejected the proposal to give employees an option to choose between any health insurance product and benefits available under the Employees' State Insurance Act, 1948.

The stakeholders including trade unions and employers' representatives opposed the proposal at the tripartite consultation to discuss the Employees' State Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2015 on Thursday.

Currently, two crore organised workers are insured under the ESI Act, benefits of which are also available to his/her family members, taking the total coverage of medical benefits under the scheme to around eight crore.

The amendment bill, currently under consideration, provides for addition of a new section under the ESI Act of 1948 which would give a one-time option to workers to choose
IRDA recognised health insurance product in lieu of benefits available under the ESI Act.

However, the employee will also have a one-time option ?to return back to the
ESIC umbrella as part of the proposed amendments to the ESI Act.

The key change to the Act, which was finalised after finance minister Arun Jaitley mentioned it in his budget speech of 2015, has been rejected by majority stakeholders' on the ground that ESIC provides unlimited benefits against very little contribution while any other mediclaim insurance is solely based on commercial interests of the private players.

"The schemes operated by ESIC is funded by the covered employees and the employers and should have not been subject of the government's budget," Prasanta
Nandi Chowdhury, national secretary of CITU said, adding that government should withdraw its hasty attempt to this amendment to protect the interest of workers.

"The move reflects the high handedness of the government and highjacking of the ESIC. ?This is totally unacceptable and hence the proposed amendment deserves to be outrightly rejected," Ram Kishore Tripathi, secretary of the
Hind Mazdoor Sabha said.

The proposal has seen reservations even by several ministries and state officials, making it difficult for the BJP-led NDA government to move ahead with his amendments to the ESI Act.

"The option of choosing any health insurance benefit vis-a-vis benefits under ESI Act should be allowed only if it increase the competition," an MSME official said.

According to the MSME official, government should not at once jump to the amendment. "First add more benefits under ESI and them open it to private players whose operations should be under check by the government," he said, adding that ?if private insurers are allowed they should provide a minimum of five benefits available under ESI Act?.

"I agree with trade unions on the fact that ESIC is doing a good job but opposing the amendment in totality is not the right thing. I urge trade unions to come up with specific objections to the proposed amendment and we will tread with caution," labour minister
Bandaru Dattatreya concluded.

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