By Chandra Jayaratne –
An Open Letter to Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Member of Parliament, Representing the Jathika Jana Balavegaya
Civil society hails with “Three Cheers”; and respectfully recognizes your brilliantly conceptualized, niche and professionally developed maiden speech in Parliament. This presentation certainly contains seeds for a way forward to add significant long term value to our society and its common stakeholders.
Civil society also values the transparent commitment you publicly made in the House, to build through your political journey, a fairer world for the stakeholders of our society, by assisting them to mitigate and lessen the differences and disparities that impact on them, their everyday lives and livelihoods, mainly due to economic and social policies, legislation and governance failures.
In your short presentation, you brought up the significant economically value adding role, mainly of women in our society, who render unpaid care work as part of their daily lives. You highlighted that this segment of women, irrespective of whether they were or were not independently employed or engaged in any other profession or vocation, in any event are yet participants in the economy in rendering unpaid care services in their respective households. Your main argument was that the economic contribution of this segment of our society was not in any way captured by economic information, data and statistics. You cited that the computation of the GDP, Labour data, unemployment data, female labour participation rate etc. as relevant examples. You emphasized, quoting Friedrich Engels, that the exploitation of unpaid care workers has continued for over 100 years; and that it was one of the worst forms of exploitation in neo liberal economies.
You argued for the capture and inclusion of the contribution of unpaid care workers in economic terms in national data and statistics, as well as the due recognition of the same in the development of policies, practices, legislation and governance. You further reiterated that such a framework was a prerequisite in building an economy that is just and works for all.
Your presentation fell short of pronouncing how best this anomalous situation can be corrected beyond the mere recognition in economic terms of this contribution. In that context, it is anyone’s guess as to how your co-legislators, the government and the executive will react to the valuable seeds you planted through your presentation. It could turn out to be yet another missed opportunity in good governance with your contribution of value ending only as a mere historical record in the hansard.
In order that your maiden speech leads to tangible long term benefits to the segment of society engaged in unpaid care work, it is suggested that you along with your Jathika Jana Balavegaya colleagues, develop and present early a Private Members Bill in Parliament to incorporate an Independent Authority to promote the welfare, recognition and reward of unpaid care workers of our society. This Bill must legislate and establish an Authority that identifies and registers the segment of unpaid care workers, and ensures not only of the capture of unpaid care work in economic data and its consideration in policy development; but in addition for their unique contribution to be recognized by a reward system, in the form of a pension payment, for all participants upon reaching the age of sixty years.
The primary accountability for funding the reward scheme must fall on society itself, as the services of unpaid care workers are enjoyed by them. Further, it is important, in the context of the perilous state of the current Sri Lankan economy, that this pension scheme be not an additional long term contingent commitment of the State.
It should preferably be launched via the November 2021 budget allocating state resources only as an initial seed capital contribution (say limited Rs. One Billion) and should thereafter be built up by regular contributions by the society stakeholders, who continue to enjoy the benefits of the unpaid care work. The Multilateral Agencies and International Monetary and Financial Institutions should also be canvassed to support the initiative and these institutions should have the ability to contribute to the seed capital and also make annual grants and awards. In addition these agencies can be called upon along with the pro-bono support of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Employers Federation, the Economists Association, Bar Association, GMOA and the Institutes of Actuaries, Financial Analysts and Accountants to assist in the development of the operational framework, funding needs/fund raising and the development of cost effective structures and systems for operation and management of the Authority and the Pension Fund established under it.
The regular contributions to the Pension fund can for example be derived via
1. Employee contribution to the EPF be increased by a nominal percentage (say for instance 2%) and such premium being channeled to the pension fund
2. Employers who will benefit from the productivity of their employees being prompted by the reason that unpaid care workers contribute to a peace of mind and stability of the family of their workforce, could contribute say an additional 1% along with the EPF contributions and such premium can also be channeled to the fund
3. Petrol and Diesel pricing can be enhanced by a marginal sum per liter and this premium contributed to the pension fund
4. Every telephone and cell phone user could be asked to contribute a regular sum per month
5. On the sale TV and Radios a CESS be levied and transferred to the fund
6. On every new Motor Vehicle and Motor Cycle and on every transfer of Motor Vehicles and Motor Cycles an additional sum may be levied and contributed to the fund
7. Every Electricity account holder and every Water account holder too could be called upon to contribute a monthly nominal sum towards the fund
8. Additional special Excise tax per cigarette and a tax on Alcohol and Beer special excise levy can be imposed and such premium contributed to the fund
9. Additional CESS can be levied on all imported Less Essential Goods, Luxury Goods and Super Luxury Goods and this revenue contribution could be channeled to this fund
10. Special additional annual levy on Gambling, Entertainment, Airline Ticket Sales, Duty Free Shops and Gem and Jewelry Sales entities and outlets could be asked to contribute an annual levy which also can be channeled to this fund.
And thus this will be a fund contributed to by society itself in support and recognition of the invaluable service rendered by the unpaid care workers.
The funds so collected must be professionally managed and 85% of the annual net fund investment income post administration, fund management and unpaid worker welfare insurance costs, (covering accident, medical and long term care insurance costs) must be distributed quarterly amongst the registered unpaid care workers as a variable pension, following actuarial determination and independent audit.
It is a fervent wish of civil society that your maiden speech planted seeds will lead to a gigantic tree that will bear fruit soon and be capable of supporting a large segment of our society who render valuable services as unpaid care workers.