Pioneer BSN staff fight against time to reclaim pensions

Pioneer Bank Simpanan Nasional staff from the 1970s and 1980s at their first branch in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

GEORGE TOWN: A group of 258 pioneer staff of Bank Simpanan Nasional, who have struggled for 26 years to reclaim their right to pensions, are hoping their plight will get the attention of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

Their pleas to three previous prime ministers have gone unanswered.

The group’s representative, Habibah Wanchek, told FMT: “We are at our wits’ end. We have been complaining to the Public Services Department for the past 26 years and have pleaded to three previous prime ministers, but no one has helped.

“We are now pinning our hopes on PM Muhyiddin and I hope he will understand the plight of us seniors. Some 20 of us have died over the years. Those in our group are in our 60s to 80s. Please have some mercy on us.”

Habibah said their problem began when some government salary schemes were switched to a “self-accounting” system from 1992 together with those in four other government agencies.

All BSN staff were supposed to have been offered a choice of being pensionable staff or entering the Employees Provident Fund scheme.

However, the 250 or so bank staff from BSN branches across the country were denied the right to choose and were moved into the EPF scheme.

Until today, the Pensions Division would only say that they did not qualify to receive pensions as they had opted for EPF in the 1990s.

Another scene of workers at BSN’s first branch in Petaling Jaya.

“But we never agreed to be part of the EPF scheme, nor did we sign any document to that effect. The Pensions Division has yet to show us proof that we opted for EPF,” she said.

Habibah said that at the time of the switch in schemes, the 250 staff had already completed 10 years or more of government service, which qualified them to receive pensions of at least RM720 a month.

“We completed our 10-year tenure before the self-accounting system kicked in. We were even given pension cards, but it is of no use. We are refused free treatment at government hospitals despite having pension ID numbers,” she said.

She said that in 1994, then BSN chairman Ahmad Zahid Hamidi had written to the PSD asking for reinstatement of pensionable status for the affected staff.

“Zahid’s letter was ignored. But in the same year on May 27, EPF staff among the five government agencies moved to self-accounting applied to remain in the old scheme and got their pension status in November 1994.

“Why the double standard? Aren’t we more qualified?” she said.

Habibah said the group was unable to file a suit against the government as they had passed the statute of limitation.

She said the group lost both their pensions as well as payment of a gratuity upon retirement.

The switch from pensionable scheme to EPF was made under a new remuneration scheme for statutory bodies called BBDS. It affected staff in BSN, EPF itself, Social Security Organisation (Socso), Tabung Haji and the Armed Forces Fund Board.

The employees were given a choice to opt to remain in their existing salary schemes or move to BBDS with new terms of service and salary schemes. Those who opted for BBDS would lose their pensionable status and would instead come under the EPF superannuation scheme.

Under the older system, a civil servant may voluntarily retire as early as 40 for women and 45 for men. The statutory bodies can decide to rehire them and put them on the newer salary system, but without losing their salaries as well.

These are the provisions under Section 12 of the Statutory and Local Authorities Pensions Act 1980, which are still in force today. They would then be given pensions under the Act, as opposed to the EPF’s payout at age 55 or 60.

A letter of approval by the Public Services Department in 1994 allowing pensionable staff in the Employees Provident Fund to retain their pensions.

In the case of BSN, which was formerly the Post Office Savings Bank (POSB), many of the older staff were part of the Postal Services Department, who were later absorbed into BSN when it was formed in December 1974.

A total of 2,265 BSN staff were given the option in April 1994, with 1,025 of them with pensionable status, as per a May 5, 1994 letter by Zahid to the PSD director-general sighted by FMT.

Zahid had then pleaded to the PSD to allow the 1,000-odd pensionable staff to retain their pensionable status when the new salary system came into effect. He also said they would be rehired under the new system, the letter read.

BSN is a statutory body under the finance ministry.

FMT has contacted PSD’s post-service unit for comment.