P F Commissioner competent to decide the employee employer relationship and to determine if a particular employee comes under the definition of employee as defined under the Act – Kerala High Court
ABCAUS Case Law Citation:
ABCAUS 1282 (2017) (06) HC
Important Case Laws Cited/relied upon:
Hindustan Time Ltd. v. Union of India and others [1998 (1) LLJ 682]
Express Publication (Madurai) Ltd. V Regional provident Fund Commissioner-II [2013 (2) KLT 323]
Brief Facts of the Case:
The respondent employee was appointed as a correspondent under the petitioner company. He approached the Assistant Provident Fund Commissioner with an application alleging that the petitioner employer company did not remit his Employees Provident Fund (‘EPF’) contribution for a period ranging to 10 years appox. despite his repeated requests. The matter was considered by the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner who conducted an enquiry into the dispute.
During the enquiry under paragraph 26B of the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme, 1952 (‘EPF Scheme’). on the basis of analysis of the evidence on record, the Regional Provident Fund Commissioner arrived at the finding that the respondent employee was working under the petitioner for the period under dispute and was eligible for membership under the EPF scheme. Apart from the eligibility for membership, the it was found that the petitioner company did not remit the contributions after deducting the same from the salary for appox one year.
The Petitioner challenged the order of the Regional PF Commissioner on the ground that the respondent employee had already left the petitioner after receiving all the benefits and he had given a statement in writing that all his claims with petitioner were settled in full. According to the petitioner, the respondent employee had worked under it as Correspondent only.
Contentions of the Petitioner Company:
It was argued that at this distance of time, no action can be taken under paragraph 26B. It was also argued that the Regional P F Commissioner exceeded his jurisdiction by conducting an enquiry as under Section 7A and determining the provident fund amount due to be paid.
It was also contended that contention that after a long period when the employer is not bound to preserve the documents in respect of the employment he cannot be put to prejudice by proceedings under the PF Act.
Observations made by the High Court:
The Hon’ble High Court opined that the enquiry conducted by the Regional P F Commissioner was perfectly within the scope of 268 and it could not be said to be an enquiry under 7A or beyond the scope of paragraph 266, as contended by the petitioner. The gg noted that the provisions contained in para 80 in Chapter X of the EPF scheme, modifies the provisions contained in paragraph 26, 26A and 268, etc of the EPF Scheme, under the special context.
The Hon’ble High Court thus observed that the dispute was considered by Regional P F Commissioner under paragraph 26B under paragraph 80 of Chapter X which contains special provisions in respect of newspaper employees. EPF Scheme is framed under a welfare legislation. If at all any doubt arises, interpretation need be made only in favour of the employee. It was further observed that Paragraph 26B does not povide for any limitation for undertaking an enquiry envisaged under the same.