The complainant, together with other workers, have changed the phone number originally registered on their Provident Fund (PF) form. As a consequence, they are no longer receiving messages from the PF office when their PF amount is deposited in their accounts. They approached the PF office and were told that they need to ask their employer to register their new phone number with their PF account, and that the PF department cannot do this on its own. They approached the factory's HR department and requested the phone number update. However, the person responsible for this task demanded INR 400. The complainant called the FWF helpline to know whether there was a provision about the charge of a fee for updating phone numbers in the PF accounts. The complainant was informed that it is not right to demand money for updating the number. The complainant referred this information to the relevant HR person and was told that that some workers (4-5) had already paid the INR 400 fee. The complainant has requested FWF to help him/her solving this problem.
Findings and conclusions
At the behest of the brand, FWF conducted an off-site investigation on 16 and 17 June 2019. Individual and group interviews were conducted. The investigation revealed that the factory was not directly involved in charging money for corrections to the workers' PF account details. The ESI-PF work of the company is handled by a consultant and therefore the allegations were against the consultant and not the factory. The complaint was therefore not grounded. However, FWF recommended the brand/factory to actively communicate with their workers on services they should expect from factory management (with regard to social security payments). This would help in managing workers’ expectations and avoid similar complaints in the future.
Overview of the complaint investigation
FWF has shared the complaint with the brands and the brands in turn have asked the factory to give its perspective for the complaint that has been raised.
Factory management answered that they are aware of this issue of mobile number updating, but the fact that the HR department is asking for 400 rupees is not true. This is a rumour that has been spread among the employees due to the amount of time it had taken.
They have suggestion boxes and cameras in many locations in the factory and management is easily accessible in case there was a genuine complaint of taking money. Employees approach senior management for other day-to-day issues such as salary advances, discrepancies, colleague issues etc. but have not approached them for this at all.
They are doing their best to educate them and explain the issue as below.
Indian employees frequently change their mobile numbers looking for the cheapest possible payment plans. They may have a mobile number only for 8-9 months at a time.
The PF (Provident Fund) department links all PF accounts to mobile numbers. The issue is that few employees who changed their mobile numbers multiple times have not informed management.
When management approaches the PF department to withdraw workers accumulated amount or change their name or make any modification at all to their PF account, the PF department sends a “one time password” to their registered mobile number for authentication.
This registered mobile number is:
1. The original number at the time of opening (registered few years before) – which has been changed multiple times.
2.Employees are unable to read English text messages and get lost in the 100s of unread text messages that they have on their phones – employees are not as tech savvy as the government expects them to be.
They are doing their best to get all the numbers changed but it takes time as government agencies in India are heavily bureaucratic. Management is asked to submit only 3-4 files at a time to the PF office so that their table does not get too full with paperwork.
Management asserted that they are doing their best to resolve this issue and all workers will be satisfied very soon.
Brand wanted FWF to investigate on whether the complainant can prove that 4-5 workers already paid INR 400 and how they were asked to pay the money to the HR department.
FWF is trying to get response from the complainant for further investigation.
05/13/2019 Conclusion of the investigation
Complainant was contacted and he/she informed that there is a person in the HR department who handles the work of the Employees' State Insurance (ESI) and PF in the factory, and it is this person who demanded Rs 400 from many workers for resolving this problem. Some workers also argued against this, but he/she insisted that without this payment he/she may not help.
The complainant remembered the name of one employee who had paid and 3-4 women workers (he/she did not know their names), and also one cleaning worker who had paid INR 400 and their problem was probably resolved. Others who did not pay were still facing this problem and gradually many workers lost hope and started realising that without paying they could not get the problem resolved and so they started accepting and convincing those who were opposing to pay INR 400 rather than risking their PF money.
He/she added that workers may never go forward to tell about this problem fearing that they may be fired if they are identified by the management.
The complainant also feared that he/she would be fired if his/her name is disclosed.
FWF recommends the factory to help the workers on this by ensuring a proper grievance handling mechanism and also to make sure that they would never be retaliated if they make a complaint.
As a part of investigation , Workers interview was conducted on June 16th and 17th by the complaints investigator and these Interviews were conducted outside the factory premises after the working hours. Both individual, group interviews were done.A total of 15 workers interviewed out of which 7 were female workers.
Complaint investigation revealed that company has not involved in any way in charging any money from workers for corrections in their PF account details. The ESI-PF work of the company is handled by a consultant and therefore the allegations whatsoever were against the consultant and not the company. Consultant helps in correction of entries in Aadhar card/Pan card if there is any error in the spelling of names or date of birth.
Errors/mistakes in the PF account details arise because of either entries in PF accounts needed update/correction [ if mobile number is changed] or entries in Aadhar/Pan Card etc needed corrections before updating in PF account details.
50% workers responded that no money was demanded/charged for the correction of PF account details, but the rest 50% said that earlier Rs 400 was demanded (but no one said that it was charged from them) by the consultant.
Two workers explained that in cases where corrections in Aadhar and Pan Card were needed, the company consultant helped the workers in getting contact with some other specific consultants doing the work of Aadhar and Pan card corrections for speedy resolution of the problem. These consultants may have charged INR 400 for Pan card correction and issue of new Pan card and INR 60 for Aadhar card corrections and issue of new Aadhar card. There may be a possibility that they charged less and some commission was added by the company consultant for himself, but there is no evidence for this. The company has nothing to do in this issue, as it was workers’ own responsibility and not that of company.
Therefore, we can come to a conclusion that none from the HR department has demanded money.
07/31/2019 Conclusion of the investigation
Since it is clear through the offsite interviews that neither the workers have paid money to factory nor the HR department has demanded any, this case can be considered as not grounded.
However the factory is recommended to actively communicate with their workers on what services they should expect from factory management (with regard to social security payments) and what they will have to avail outside. This would help in managing workers’ expectation and avoid any such complaints in future.
Since it was established through workers interview that neither HR department demanded money for updating the phone number nor any of the interviewed workers have paid money to any person in HR department this complaint is not considered as grounded and hence it is closed.