x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Pension fund to launch within months

A new Indian government pension scheme may quadruple the savings of Indian blue collar workers from as little as Dh69 a month.

Indian labourer Harvinder Singh, in purple, is the kind of worker who would benefit from a new pension scheme being introduced by the Indian government.
Indian labourer Harvinder Singh, in purple, is the kind of worker who would benefit from a new pension scheme being introduced by the Indian government.

DUBAI //Harvinder Singh came to the UAE on the promise of a job in construction with a Dh900 monthly salary.

It was only after he arrived that he learnt he would be earning just Dh750. Most of that goes back to his family in Punjab.

For the estimated 5 million semi-skilled and unskilled workers like Harvinderliving in Gulf countries, it is not difficult to see why planning for the future takes second place to daily survival.

The Indian Ambassador to the UAE says Harvinder is exactly the sort of worker that his government hopes will benefit from the Pension and Life Insurance Fund (PLIF) for Overseas Indian Workers, which is set to launch in a few months.

The voluntary pension scheme may quadruple the savings of Indian blue-collar workers by asking them to make a minimum annual deposit of 1,000 rupees, which works out to about Dh69 a month.

In turn, the Indian government will deposit an annual grant of up to 4,000 rupees. The grant, designed to encourage more workers to invest in the scheme, forms part of India's new social security initiatives.

"A three-member team was recently in the UAE to finalise the [details]in this regard," the ambassador, MK Lokesh, said yesterday.

"It will benefit a large number of semi-skilled and skilled workers. We are hoping it will start in a couple of months' of time."

The Indian government is likely to tie up with more than one financial institution for the scheme, Mr Lokesh said, and had already held discussions with Bank of Baroda and Life Insurance Corporation of India.

The money can be reclaimed by the worker upon return to India, after the age of 50.

The fund offers labourers three distinct benefits, said Mr Lokesh.

"It helps workers to save for their old age, accumulate some savings for their resettlement when they return to India, and also doubles as a life insurance cover against natural death," he said.

The scheme is open to men and women between 18 and 50, working overseas on an Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) passport, which is issued to semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

The ministry of overseas Indian affairs says the earnings sent home by ECR workers is rarely put into savings. This means their hard-earned wages result in a temporary improvement of the lives of their families.

As a result, those who have worked so hard to provide for their loved ones risk of poverty when they are too old to work and have to return to their homeland.

Harvinder has not saved any money for his return to India.

"I hardly have any money left over at the end of the month," he said. "Most of my salary goes toward sending home for the family and for my costs in the UAE.

"Our salaries are not that big that we could save some money towards the pension plan."

In the end, Harvinder doubts that he would be able to afford the pension scheme.

His friend Kulwant Singh said he might consider signing up if his salary were to increase.

"At the moment it looks very difficult for me. My salary is too little," Kulwant said.

If he and Harvinder did get the Dh6 raise they would need to sign up for a PLIF, finding a way to sort out the administration involved would be the next challenge.

Mr Lokesh said the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC), which opened a year and a half ago in Dubai, would play a key role in simplifying the scheme for them.

"Workers need not go from one bank to the other to complete the process," he said.

"All the work, like signing the documents to taking membership in the scheme, would be done at IWRC."

The final hurdle is the cost of transport from the labour camp to the IWRC - something that sounds as simple as Dh6 to some, but is insurmountable to others.

frahman@thenational.ae