Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Pilots seethe over SpiceJet’s provident fund deposit lapses

At a time when low-cost carrier SpiceJet is under the Director General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) scanner for degradation of safety standards due to a financial crunch, its pilots are furious over the airline’s failure to deposit their provident fund since 2020 despite continuing pay cuts.

Sources among pilots said the airline has failed to pay employees’ and employers’ contributions towards the provident fund scheme for pilots since April 2020, and for first officers (junior pilots) since September 2021. In some cases, the payments have been delayed by several months. The Hindu has reviewed the Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) passbook of some of these employees.

The airline rejected the allegations in response to a query from The Hindu. “The information that PF hasn’t been deposited since 2020 is wrong and is strongly denied. There have been certain deferrals on discharging of payments but no default. The company has been actively paying dues and clearing the outstanding,” the SpiceJet spokesperson said in response to a query from The Hindu.

“We have written to the management, seeking an explanation for our unpaid provident fund, but they haven’t provided an answer,” a pilot said on condition of anonymity. “PF (provident fund) contribution is being deducted from our salaries but not being transferred to our EPFO account. Similary, tax deducted at source is also being deducted from our salaries, but it hasn’t been deposited,” a pilot said.

These claims were corroborated by several other pilots. Various pilots said that in the past few months, the airline has also stopped providing them salary slips so that they don’t know the sums deducted from their salaries.

Under the EPFO’s rules, if an employer fails to deposit PF for more than six months, there can be a penalty of ₹50,000 or imprisonment of up to three years. “The penalty of ₹50,000 is for every employee whose PF is delayed, but the court decides the quantum of penalty and imprisonment because this becomes a class action suit when a sizeable number of employees are impacted,” labour rights expert Rahul Sapkal said.

The DGCA served a show-cause notice to the airline over a spate of safety-related incidents on several of its flights, which the regulator said was also due to the airline’s inability to secure spare parts for maintenance because of payment issues.

The pilots are also seething with anger over steep pay-cuts imposed by the airline that continue to be in place despite the revival in passenger demand and the airline returning to pre-pandemic levels in terms of flights. There is industry-wide anger over salary cuts, particularly because everyone received a fraction of their pre-Covid salaries during the pandemic.

13/07/22 Jagriti Chandra/The Hindu

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