Pilots seethe over SpiceJet’s provident fund deposit lapses

A SpiceJet aircraft takes off from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel international airport in Ahmedabad. File.

A SpiceJet aircraft takes off from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel international airport in Ahmedabad. File. | Photo Credit: Reuters

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.

Also read:Spicejet | Turbulence in the airline

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.

Also read:SpiceJet MD booked for defrauding businessman, airline calls complaint ‘bogus’

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.

For instance, from June 2020, after the flights resumed domestically following a two month ban, SpiceJet offered pilots salaries on an “hourly basis”, with first officers being offered ₹1,720 per hour and commanders offered ₹6,020 per hour. Such a system resulted in a first officer drawing a salary of ₹2 lakh before the pandemic receiving only between ₹20,000 to ₹40,000 for some months. Pilots say such a system resulted in a pay cut of up to 90%.

As the flying hours increased, the airline in September 2021 shifted to a “block hour” system of payment, and as a result, pilots working the same number of hours were drawing substantially less — for example, a commander would get ₹50,000 less. Later, as flying hours improved by December 2021, the salary situation marginally improved for the pilots and cuts now amounted to 70% of the pre-pandemic salary.

A pilot source also said that for nearly five months, in 2021, as the airline failed to pay the simulator company, the pilot proficiency check (PPC) expired for hundreds of pilots, resulting in their being unable to fly. A PPC needs to be renewed every six months. These pilots didn’t receive any salary during this period, until the airline revised its policy for pilots with expired PPCs in September 2021 and started offering ₹45,000 per month for first officers to ₹75,000 per month for commanders.

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Printable version | Jul 13, 2022 12:56:01 pm |