Representational image. | The Indian Express
After major media houses across the country either laid off employees or cut their salaries during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Bombay High Court issued notices to the Centre, the state of Maharashtra and ten media houses while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the Maharashtra Union of Working Journalists (MUWJ) and Nagpur Union of Working Journalists (NUWJ).
The two journalists’ unions filed the PIL while calling the salary cuts and lay offs by organisations “illegal and arbitrary”, according to a Live Law report. A two-judge bench of Justices S.B. Shukre and A.S. Kilor reportedly asked the respondents to reappear before it in four weeks.
The plea mentioned that the employees of media houses have been working even during the lockdown imposed due to COVID-19, and by terminating their services or refusing to renew their contracts, the media organisations are indulging in inhuman and illegal practices. The petition said that several newspaper organisations are either terminating services of their employees or forcing them to resign in an “arbitrary manner”.
The report mentioned that aside from the Centre and the state of Maharashtra, the ten media houses listed as respondents are: Indian Newspaper Society, Vidarbha Daily Newspapers, Lokmat Media, Times of India/Maharashtra Times, Dainik Bhaskar, Sakal Media, Indian Express/Lok Satta, Tarun Bharat, Nav Bharat Media group, Deshonnati Group and Punya Nagari Group.
The petition reportedly mentioned that the organisations in question have not paid heed to Prime Minister Modi’s appeal to companies to not sack their employees or cut their wages. A similar advisory was issued by the Ministry of Labour and Employment on March 20. The PIL is said to have mentioned that such moves by the owners of newspapers and other media houses was “inhuman and illegal” and in violation of rights guaranteed to citizens under Article 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
"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 petition reportedly said.
According to the report, the petitioners also informed the court that the Majithia Wage Board recommendations with regard to remuneration for journalists had been accepted by the Centre in 2011. The unions contended that the moves made by the organisations were in violation of the said recommendations and the framework provided for by the Working Journalists Act, 1955.