Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists (MUWJ) and Nagpur Union of Working Journalists (NUWJ) filed public interest litigation (PIL) against the “illegal and arbitrary” actions of newspapers/employers to lay off, force salary cut on journalists/non-journalist employees during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bombay High Court today responded by issuing notice to the Centre, the State and ten different media.
PIL seeking directions to media groups to stop laying off employees, or cutting their salaries were provided and returnable notice within four weeks to all respondents was sent by a Division bench of Justice SB Shukre and AS Kilor.
Various respondents apart from the Union of India and State of Maharashtra,namely, Indian Newspaper Society, Vidarbha Daily Newspapers, Lokmat Media, Times of India/Maharashtra Times, DainikBhaskar, Sakal Media, Indian Express/LokSatta, Tarun Bharat, Nav Bharat Media group, Deshonnati Group and PunyaNagari Group had been impleaded by the petitioner in the salary cut matter.
Additional Solicitor General UM Aurangabadkar represented the Union and Government Pleader SY Deopujari for the State,Advocate Shreerang Bhandarkar appeared for MUWJ and Advocate Maneesh Shukla for NUWJ respectively.
Petition mentionedthe ignorance of the prime minister’s appeal to not deprive employees of their livelihoods in such times and also the Labour Ministry’s advisory in March when journalists were being unilaterally terminated, forced to resign, laid off from service, forced to sustain steep wage cuts and forced to accept changes in condition of service (conversion of regular or permanent employees into contractual ones).
Moreover, the PIL stated the threats given to employees of termination, transfer to remote places etc., by the management of newspapers. Specific instances of layoffs and salary cuts of employees working for the respondent media groups had also been referred by the Petitioners.
The “inhuman and illegal” practice of the employers/newspaper owners in violation of rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India was the contention by the Petitioners in salary cut and layoffs matter.
“Even after full-fledged services provided by journalists/mom-journalist employees during the Covid-19 pandemic by risking their lives and the lives of their near and dear ones, covering the news together with the corona warriors all across the city and region including containment zones” (Excerpt)
Furthermore, the PIL highlighting Salary cut and layoffs contended-
“Seeking to exploit the “Coronavirus pandemic crisis” to the hilt and best of their advantage they are further changing the conditions of service of the regular and confirmed journalist/non-journalist employees by offering to reappoint them on contractual basis by way of arrangement which they refer to as Cost to Company (CTC) wherein major part of the salary is performance linked pay (PLP).”
The Court was informed about the two wage boards by Petitioner unions, which were established for journalists and non-journalist employees called the ‘Majithia Wage Board’ and recommendations of the said wage board was accepted by the Government of India in 2011.
However, petitioners argued that contrary actions to the statutory framework provided by the Working Journalists Act of 1955 and Majithia Wage Board were taken by resorting to and adopting illegal tactics to salary cut of employees and introducing innovative ways of terminating the employees from their services by the newspaper authorities.