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Unpaid media employees of northeast India

Nava Thakuria,
India’s highest court on April 9 ruled that journalists and non­journalists of newspapers and news agencies are entitled to a pay hike under the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Board. Dismissing pleas by various owners seeking a review of its earlier judgment, the Supreme Court directed publishers to implement the recommendations of the latest wage board from this month on.

The bench comprising Chief Justice P Sathasivam, Justice Ranjan Gogoiand Justice Shiva Kirti Singh ruled that the wages as revised ‘would be payable from 11 November 2011’, when the Indian Union government notified the recommendations of the Majithia Board. “All the arrears up to March 2014 shall be paid to all eligible employees in four equal installments within a period of one year and continue to pay the revised wages from April 2014 onwards,” the verdict noted.

The latest report of national wage board for working journalists and other newspaper employees under the leadership of Justice GR Majithia was presented to the Union government in New Delhi on 31 December 2010.“A fine, fair and judicious balance has been achieved between the expectations and aspirations of the employees and the capacity and willingness of the employers to pay,” said Justice Majithia in an interview.

He added that the report made suggestions for the consideration of the government on issues like post­ retirement benefits, a forward looking promotion policy, measures to improve enforcement of the wage board etc. As far as social security measures are concerned possibility of granting paternity leave to male employees, extension of retirement age up to 65 years, exploring pension scheme possibilities were suggested going beyond the mandated wage structure revision, he added.

The wage boards for newspaper & news agency employees including journalists, constituted under the working journalists and other newspaper employees (conditions of service) and miscellaneous provisions act 1955, are statutory. The prime responsibility for implementing the recommendations of the wage board rests with the concerned province governments and Union territories of India. “Journalists are paid a lump sum without any welfare benefits and they can be dismissed at will. Except for some newspapers the mainstream publications had, ever since the wage board’s award came out in 2010, conducted only diatribes against the award,” said an editorial of Economic & Political Weekly, a credible publication of Indiain its 29March 2014 issue.

It also added, “The burden of opinion pieces by either the owners or top executives (usually in their own publications) was that small newspapers would be forced to close down while the bigger ones would be crippled. While five journalists’ trade unions and federations fought the challenges in court, there was nary a word from journalists or any form of public protest. The entire scenario illustrates well the working conditions of journalists in the country today.” Even the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a regional non­governmental organization that monitors human rights in Asia and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights, expressed concerns over the salary and working conditions of media persons in India.

The Assam Tribune group of newspapers based in Guwahati was the first media house in India to implement the recommendations of the latest wage board since January 2012. The 70 years old media house did not wait for the apex court verdict, as done by many big newspaper groups of the country while challenging the constitutionality of the Majithia Wage Board in the Supreme Court. The editor of The Assam
Tribune, PG Baruah, also the managing director of the media house that publishes an Assamese daily, an Assamese weekly and an Assamese literary magazine besides the English daily, was candid when he spoke about the wage board implementation, “We have given the employees their due. It is our duty and also the gesture.”

All Assam Media Employees Federation (AAMEF), while addressing the matter of livelihood for media workers in northeast India has urged the newspaper house managements to show their respect to the Supreme Court by implementing the new wage board from this month. Appreciating the Assam Tribune group for implementing the latest wage board recommendations for the first time in the country, the AAMEF declared, “It is now time for other media groups to show gesture to their employees.” 2014

Nava Thakuria is a senior journalist and Secretary of the Guwahati Press Club.