The Sunday Leader

SriLankan Airlines: A Storm Brews Within

  • Meal allowance controversy leaves a bad taste as SLA Flight Attendants Union takes on management

by Nirmala Kannangara

As a result of the demands made by the Flight Attendants Union (FAU) of SriLankan Airlines (SLA) to contribute EPF and ETF on their meal allowances as per labour laws, the SLA management has disregarded FAU as a legitimate body.

As defined in Section 44 of EPF Act No. 15 of 1958 and Section 16 of ETF Act No. 46 of 1980, EPF and ETF shall be paid not only on the basic salary but on total earnings. Hence over the past years, SriLankan Airlines knowingly or un-knowingly had not paid EPF and ETF on the meal allowance for cabin crew and pilots. Although the FAU in the early 2000s had received the Labour Department’s pronouncement that EPF and ETF should be paid on allowances, as an allowance is considered as an earning, the then FAU had not demanded of the respective managements that EPF and ETF be contributed on the meal allowance until the present executive committee members made the request.

In order to avoid the FAU demand, the management of SriLankan Airlines in an unorthodox manner refused to accept the legitimacy of the executive committee of the FAU who were elected uncontested in December 2015, claiming that unless they are elected through a secret ballot the management will not deal with the FAU in its capacity as a bargaining agent and would thus disregard their demands.

Although it is clear that there wasn’t any necessity for the FAU to hold an election when there were no parties to contest but only one set of nominations received, it is alleged that the present management of SriLankan Airlines want to avoid the demand and have no knowledge in administration.

“There was only one nominee for each post and other than electing them to the posts uncontested, we cannot understand why the management is still asking us to come through a secret ballot which is an unnecessary exercise. If the present management cannot understand the difference between electing members in a secret ballot and electing members uncontested, their administration ability is questionable,” FAU sources said on condition of anonymity.

The sitting FAU office bearers were elected uncontested on December 18, 2015 without a ballot being held as all those who were to contest in the election withdrew their nominations prior to the Annual General Meeting (AGM).  The three teams that withdrew their submissions harmoniously, got together and decided to go as one team under the Founding President FAU, Adrian Cramer. This was officially conveyed to the sitting President FAU, Sidath Dedigama who was the authorising officer to hold the union election. As a result of not accepting the present FAU as a legitimate body, the FAU had made a request to the Labour Department for their intervention over the FAU’s legitimacy. Hence, in a letter dated May 29, 2016, Commissioner of Labour (Labour Affairs) H. K. K. A. Jayasundera instructed the chief executive officer of SriLankan Airlines not to reject a dialogue with the duly elected FAU who have the majority support of the members. The labour commissioner also said legal action could be taken against the employer in the event they fail to adhere to labour laws. “The FAU has been in operation for 19 years and has held 14 AGMs to elect office bearers. Of these 14 times, office bearers had been selected through a ballot only on two occasions, in 2007 and 2013.  Although this was not an issue for the then managements, the present management under the good governance administration wants to expel us and get flight attendants who are in support of them to be elected to avoid trade union demands on EPF and ETF contribution on the meal allowances,” sources said. “No sooner we took office, we informed Pradeep Kekulawala, Head of Human Resources, of the formation of the new FAU executive committee for the year 2015/2016. Whilst congratulating the office bearers, Kekulawala wrote back to the FAU that he looked forward to a cordial relationship with the new office bearers. Having stated that in an e-mail addressed to the office bearers on December 19, 2015, he wrote back to the general secretary FAU on February 3, 2016 seeking details of the AGM to establish the date, venue time, number of attendees at the time of the selection and whether an election was held. By this time we had demanded that management contribute EPF and ETF on the allowances,” sources added. This newspaper is in receipt of letters sent by the Employees Provident Fund and the Employees Trust Fund to the FAU confirming that EPF and ETF should be paid on meal allowances as well although the present management is now trying to evade the labour law. “When our ex co informed the Labour Department that EPF and ETF are not paid on the meal allowances, they held two rounds of inquiries and wanted a management representative to attend. Surprisingly no one from the management was represented at these inquires. The third inquiry will be held tomorrow (06) and we hope that an official will represent the management at this hearing. In the event of their absence once again, we will request that Labour Department officials take action against the airline management,” sources claimed.

The sources further said Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Capt. Suren Ratwatte wanted the FAU to forego the annual increments due this month.

“According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed between the FAU and the airline management, once in three years the FAU discuss remuneration packages and other privileges of FAU members which benefits both FAU and management. When we discussed our salary increment this month with CEO Ratwatte, he wanted us to forego the increment this year claiming that the company is facing a financial crisis. We are not in agreement with this as this situation erupted not because of the employees but because of the management,” sources added. According to the sources, the management is now targeting the flight attendants by not extending their contracts claiming that there is excess staff. Meanwhile there is talk that Mihin Lanka will be closed down by October this year and in such an event Mihin cabin crew and pilots will be absorbed into SLA for a lower remuneration.

“If there is an excess of staff, why did they advertise calling applications for management trainees? Since we have become a threat to them, the management has taken a decision without consulting the FAU to take the lay-overs off and force us to return without a break. Once they force the cabin crew to return on the same flight without a break, we will be deprived of our allowances. We depend on the allowances and not on the basic salary as our salaries are extremely low. Although the management is planning to introduce this system from end of this month, they did not have a dialogue with the FAU before taking this decision. This is illegal. According to clause 17 of the Collective Agreement 2014-2017, the management cannot take a decision without discussing it with us and without our agreement,” sources alleged.

Clause 17 of the Collective Agreement 2014-2017 under the heading Flight Time Limitation and Roster, says, ‘As per the current practices which will remain until the roster guideline/ operators scheme is negotiated/ finalised and approved by the Director General of Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka’.

“Since the SriLankan Management is going to violate this clause we brought this up with Labour Department officials last month seeking their intervention. The present management is violating labour laws as if they are above the law of this country.

SriLankan Airlines is a national asset and a money-spinning institution but because of the appointment of a board of directors who don’t have any knowledge in civil aviation and how to run a fleet of aircraft, the company has now become a cash-strapped institution.

Although Harry Jayawardena too did not have any knowledge of civil aviation, he learnt the subject perfectly and was the only board member we ever had in the recent past that could take the airline to greater heights,” sources claimed.

It is learnt that the FAU had consulted Attorney/Barrister-at-Law Chrishmal Warnasuriya on the matter who had said that in terms of Section 6(a) of the Constitution, only one nominee was available for each post and therefore electing un-contested is nothing irregular in an uncontested election because if no one stands to compete with a nominee, the holding of polls become redundant and an unnecessary exercise.

According to Warnasuriya, since due notice of the AGM had been given in terms of Section 8 (c) of the Constitution and that no member had raised any issue with regard to the non-holding of a poll or the nominations under Section 8 (e) or (f) of the Constitution, there is no opportunity for anyone to question the validity of an election that they have agreed and accepted.

Furthermore, Section 12 (a) and (c) deals with the nominations received by the secretary and the electing of the executive committee. As there was only one set of nominations received for each post, the committee holding the elections have decided to declare those nominees elected uncontested. Therefore in terms of Section 12 (a) ‘an election’ had been held and the nominees declared elected.

When The Sunday Leader contacted CEO Capt. Suren Ratwatte to find out why the airline is evading paying EPF and ETF as per Labour Department directions and why the airline management is not ready to accept FAU as a legitimate trade union, Ratwatte said he was overseas and did not have time to talk as he was attending a conference.

Hence a text message was sent to Ratwatte requesting his e-mail address in order to forward the allegations levelled against the Sri Lankan management seeking a comment. However at the time this newspaper went to press, Ratwatte had neither returned the call to clarify their side of the story nor sent us his e-mail address.


4 Comments for “SriLankan Airlines: A Storm Brews Within”

  1. carlos

    Just close it down, and sell whatever can be sold and save the tax payers money. In any case more than 50% are political appointments from the lowest paid to the highest . What about the interest on the debts, who and how are they benn serviced

  2. Kevin

    The meal allowances, to be included as part of the gross income for EPF and ETF calculations, must then also be brought into the Income Tax calculations of the Cabin Crew. This means that the Cabin Crew must pay income tax on basic salary + meal allowances.

  3. Edward

    This has nothing to do with a storms brews within
    .At present Sri Lankan is the most expensive airline in comparison to much better airlines such as Emirates and Qatar. As such I wish to draw the attention of the authorities that a reduction in airfare would help to cut down the existing colossal loss incurred as more passengers will opt to fly by Sri Lankan.

    • Edward,
      You are correct – Sri Lankan airline is the most expensive one for no
      reason. Emirates and Quatar Airliners are much cheaper and fly from
      every corner of Europe to Sri Lanka.


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