Employees belonging to the All Government Employees Grand Association (Agega) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa expressed their dissatisfaction with the federal and provincial governments’ decisions to reduce pensions and salaries under the pretext of pension reforms.
The protesters, holding banners and placards, gathered in front of the Charsadda Press Club on Thursday, conveying messages such as ‘class system among employees,’ ‘opposition to pension-related robbery,’ and ‘No to salary cuts.’
Notably, in the previous week, the federal government introduced amendments to the Pension Scheme of 2023 aimed at alleviating the mounting pension payment burden for retired employees. The proposal suggests fixing the family pension for retired employees at a ten-year term. However, in cases where a child of the deceased employee is disabled, an indefinite pension will be granted.
Additionally, the amendment recommends a twenty-year family pension for the families of martyrs. The summary outlining these changes has been sent to the prime minister for approval, citing the unaffordability of the pension bill.
It’s worth mentioning that former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar emphasized the pressing issue of the pension burden in his speech before the National Assembly in June this year. He revealed that the pension burden on the country had reached a staggering 800 billion rupees and stressed that this figure would become unsustainable in the future. Dar had also proposed that government employees receiving multiple pensions should select only one.
On the other hand, stringent conditions, including pension reforms, were imposed as prerequisites for borrowing from the International Monetary Fund. Over the last twelve years, pension-related expenses have swelled by 500 billion, and Pakistan is now under pressure to implement these conditions as it seeks additional loans in late October.
After these developments, government employees in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and various provinces embarked on a strike to oppose this policy. They have demanded revisions to the relevant laws and have vowed to take to the streets in protest until their concerns are addressed.
Arshad Khan Turangzai, the Provincial President of the All Primary Teachers Association, emphasized that government employees dedicate their valuable time and energy to public service. He asserted that the pension reforms are a severe blow to their livelihood and stated that the federal and provincial governments must not act as executioners of their well-being. He underlined their determination to take any necessary actions to protect their rights.
During the protest, the government employees contended that the federal caretaker government was unconstitutionally running the country and, as such, had no authority to infringe on the rights of government employees.
Sabir Jan, another government employee, explained that the current pension rules allow retired government employees to receive a pension from both departments if they undertake another pensionable position after retirement. Furthermore, in the event of their passing, their family continues to receive a lifelong pension. However, under the proposed amendments in the Pension Reforms of 2023, individuals receiving two pensions would be eligible for just one, and their families would be entitled to a ten-year pension after their death. This new rule is perceived as deeply unfair to the employees.
Sabir Khan highlighted that government employees are recruited under the Pension Gravity Scheme of 1954, which fixes their monthly pension according to their final salary. The new government decision, however, averages the salaries of the last 36 months to calculate the pension, a change viewed as a grave injustice by the employees.
He contended that there is currently no constitutional legislative assembly in the country, and the power to make laws rests with legislative assemblies. The caretaker government lacks the authority to introduce such laws, and the previous government has unlawfully delegated powers to the current government, causing considerable harm to civil servants. Employees issued a warning that if the government does not revisit the proposed amendments, they would establish a protest camp in front of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly and subsequently march towards Islamabad.