India : IJU Call To Halt Layoffs16 Apr, 2020
The Indian Journalists Union calls upon the Indian Newspaper Society, the News Broadcasters Association, Editors Guild of India and Digital News Publishers’ Association to halt and prevent lay-offs of journalists in the midst of the pandemic. While the media industry, like the rest, would be feeling the pinch of the unprecedented lockdown, the IJU said it is the moral responsibility of media owners and managements to look after their staff in these difficult times. Likewise, the NBA and EGI must safeguard the interest of their colleagues against claims of media houses ‘incurring financial losses’.
Taking strong exception to reports of hasty layoffs and salary cuts by various media organisations in print, electronic and digital media, the IJU said the actions may not necessarily be in tune with the so-called losses being incurred, which should be viewed only under a stipulated period of time, and thus it is necessary they do not indulge in a knee-jerk reaction and instead empathise with their foot soldiers, who are carrying out their responsibilities at the risk of their health and life.
A broad perusal of the churning in the media workforce reveals the Indian Express and Business Standard have sought cut in staff salaries; the Times of India group is learnt to have told three of its staff members of Times Life to leave; 45 of 200 employees of The Quint have been asked to go on indefinite leave without pay from April 15; News Nation has laid off its entire English digital team of 15 on April 10; Sakal Times is said to have asked 15 staffers to resign; Outlook magazine, Star of Mysore and Nai Duniya have suspended their print editions and its impact on staff is unclear.
In a statement, IJU President and former member of Press Council of India Geetartha Pathak and Secretary General and IFJ Vice President Sabina Inderjit said reasons such as cost-cutting or going through a financial crisis due to COVID-19 can be no justification as till yesterday it was three weeks to the lockdown. It appears they are taking advantage of the pandemic to downsize their workforce to avoid legal implications and responsibilities relating to retrenchment as per the Industrial Disputes Act.
The IJU cautioned print media employers to bear in mind the Supreme Court order upholding implementation of Majithia Wage Board recommendations, wherein there was no difference between regular and contract employees. It had said: “The Wage Board recommendations, as approved and notified, would apply to all categories of employees, including contractual employees, who would also be entitled to variable pay and computation of all allowances…” Besides, the law is clear that retrenchment or laying-off staff by an establishment would need to be not on sheer basis of ‘financial loss,’ but the company having suffered “heavy cash losses in the three preceding accounting years of the award…” Additionally, there’s a stipulated notice period and compensation formula of salary which must be noted.
The IJU also asked the owners to adhere to Prime Minister Modi’s repeated appeal not to retrench staff and strengthen their representation for a stimulus package, like the rest, and not take these anti-worker actions till then. Further, while joining the INS, NBA and EGI in their criticism of Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s suggestion asking for a two-year ban on media advertisements by the Government and PSUs, which will cripple the industry, the IJU said media houses mustn’t shun their own responsibility towards their employees at a time, as they have argued that “they are fearlessly reporting on the Covid-19.”
The IJU said those affected must contemplate challenging the arbitrary actions once normalcy returns; consider strengthening unions by joining and refrain from individual contracts, as only then collective bargaining giving workers a greater influence in negotiating a fairer pay settlement can be pursued. It welcomes the call of Confederation of Newspapers and News Agencies Employees Unions’ General Secretary M S Yadav’s to hold a massive protest in solidarity in the Capital against anti-employees policies once the lockdown is withdrawn