West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday said that the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation’s proposed reduction in interest rates on savings was an anti-people and anti-worker step.

The Central Board of Trustees on Saturday proposed to lower the interest rate for subscribers on retirement savings scheme from the existing 8.5% to 8.1% for 2021-’22. The board is a tripartite body, headed by the labour minister, compromising representatives from the government, trade unions, and employers.

“After the vote victory in UP, BJP government comes out with its gift card immediately,” Banerjee said on Twitter. “This is amidst the pandemic-hit financial stresses of middle and lower middle class workers and employees of the country.”

The Trinamool Congress chief said that the step “exposes the crudely lopsided public policies of the current central establishment which espouses interests of big capital at the expense of farmers, workers, and middle classes”.

Banerjee said that there was a need for “united protests” against the announcement.

Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge said that under the previous United Progressive Alliance government, EPF rates were always between 8.5% and 9.5%. “Be it savings or FD rate, the safe banking instruments of the poor and middle class are delivering much lower returns, at a time of high inflation,” he said.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) described the announcement as a vicious attack on working people. “This is [as] cruel as it comes in the background of mounting hardships with growing job losses, galloping price rise, etc.”

The interest rate proposed by Centre on the employees’ provident fund deposits was the lowest in four decades.

The rate will have to be ratified by the finance ministry before it is added to the balance of subscribers account.

The state-run Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation is the country’s largest retirement fund with nearly 60 million active subscribers.

Provident fund accounts are mandatory for workers earning up to Rs 15,000 a month in companies with more than 20 workers. At least 12% of an employee’s basic salary is compulsorily deducted to be deposited in provident fund, while an employer also contributes an equal amount.