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PIL against Media Houses forcing resignation, pay cuts on Journalists/ non-journalist employees amid COVID-19: Bombay HC seeks Govt response

Meera Emmanuel

The Bombay High Court has sought the Government's response in a PIL challenging illegal, arbitrary, inhumane and unilateral measures to remove or reduce the pay of journalist and non-journalist employees of various media houses amid the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The PIL filed by Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists and the Nagpur Union of Working Journalists raise grievance over such employees being forcefully terminated, subjected to pay cuts and the coerced to accept changes in their service conditions to become contractual employees.

It is noted that by pressurising employees to change their conditions of service and offering contractual re-appointments, a major part of the salary is linked to Performance Linked Pay.

With such an arrangement, employers have also evolved their own pay structure, which violates the Working Journalists Act of 1955, the petition states further.

Notice in the matter was issued by the Bench of Justices Sunil B Shukre and Anil S Kilor earlier this week. The matter is expected to be taken up next after four weeks.

The petitioners have argued that in testing times, the employees' rights ought to be protected. It is also pointed out that the media sector was exempted from the lockdown, and further that they had continued to work on the frontlines amid the pandemic.

“It is worth mentioning here that the journalist/ non-journalist employees of such newspaper organisations/ groups are the frontline Corona warriors even during this lockdown period and as working by rising their lives providing services, authentic news to the people at large and they now are facing termination of service for all the wrong reasons. “
the petition states.
"For the last nearly a month now, the newspaper organisations/ groups themselves are in the news for all the wrong reasons. And now, not a single day passes when there is now news of sacking print media employees or shutting down of some edition or section of some newspaper or the other", the petitioners state further.

The petitioners also point out that the illegal tactics resorted to by the media houses are often preceded "sugar-coated internal emails by the owners or CEOs of these groups" that the employee must be prepared for some more sacrifices in the future.

The petitioners name several prominent media houses, and detail the various coercive measures that these companies took against their employees during the pandemic.

The organisations so named include Lokmat Media Private Limited, The Bennett Coleman and Company Limited i.e. the Times Group, the Dainik Bhaskar Group, the Indian Express Loksatta Group, the ABP management, the Hindustan Times Group, Sakal Group, Tarun Bharat Group, Navbharat Group, Deshnnati Group, Punya Nagari and Lokshahi Varta.

Apart from violating Articles 14, 16, 19 and 21 of the Constitution, the petitioners contend that such retrenchment and allied measures of employees violate the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 and the Working Journalists Act,1955. It is also noted that these measures run contrary to advisories issued by the Central Government last March.

As such, the petitioners contend that if no binding directive is given to private media houses, "thousands of employees will be vulnerable to losing their jobs/ income, which will lead to an unprecedented economic situations - a situation that the country cannot afford."

The prayers made by the petitioners, on these concerns include those for rolling back the coercive measures taken against employees in media houses amid the lockdown, a declaration that the same was illegal and a direction that media houses refrain from removing their employees or reducing their pay.

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