Majority of the work at Doordarshan Kendra, Chennai is carried out by casual employees, and they are allegedly not fully compensated for it. They work for a minimum of two weeks to maximum 30 days a month, but are given only seven days’ pay, several employees told Newsclick.
This practice has existed for long and it is allegedly exercised with the knowledge of top officials at DD, including gazetted officers.
All the essential categories of work for running a television channel are allegedly under casual employment at DD, such as editors, resource persons, reporters, anchors and set workers.
DD employees say they work under such exploitative conditions in the hope that some window of opportunity will open up to become permanent employees in the future, which would give them the benefits of being a government employee.
The employees Newsclick spoke to preferred to remain anonymous as they fear being targeted by the administration. They cited the example of a worker who questioned the existing practice and was not hired back for projects; in other words, he was fired.
Under the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime, workers say that employment at DD has been almost fully casualised and contractualised; there are only a few permanent employees and they too will retire in a few years.
CASUAL WORKER FOR 21 YEARS
“Casual editors work for 15 days a month, but are paid only for seven days as per oral agreement. Some of the workers are paid for as low as four days. Those who are lucky find freelance work for the rest of the month,” said one of the workers associated with DD Chennai for almost ten years.
Some of the workers, who were earlier working for 30 days, allegedly arrived at a 15 days agreement after a negotiation with the administration. Other workers, who were not involved in the negotiation process, continue to work for 30 days.
A worker said “editors are paid Rs 1,980 per day and hired on paper for seven days, which adds up to Rs 13,860 a month. They are hired under the vague title of ‘post-production assistant’, because an editor should likely be paid more as it is a qualified job. All other casual workers are hired under the title 'resource person', although they do different skilled work. They all get paid Rs 11,550 for seven days, but they work all month long."
An employee, who is associated with DD Chennai for 21 years said, “This practice is the norm here, it has been prevalent for decades.” He alleged that the practice started around 2004-05 when workers were hired for 21 days a month. “We were made to work for two extra days because seniors requested it,” he added.
Over the years, the 21 days of pay per month was reduced to ten days, and it now stands at four to seven days a month, allege workers. “This change was done with the permission of officials in Delhi,” a worker claimed.
Purushottaman, an office bearer of Tamil Nadu Union of Journalists, said, “If the government that is making the labour laws does not implement them, how will other television channels implement them? This is a sad state for journalists.”
DREAM OF A PERMANENT JOB
In the past, casual employees have allegedly waged legal fights and been successful at getting permanent employment.
An employee told Newsclick, “Eight to ten years ago, workers were hired for ten days a month, and it added up to 120 work days a year. Two employees filed court cases demanding permanent employment citing their long term involvement with DD and the 120 work days a year, they were successful.”
Another senior employee said, “One of the workers was 53 years old when she won the court case. She worked only for seven more years and soon retired. The other person was also not very young.”
To prevent such cases in future, the administration apparently reduced the number of workdays to seven days a month. “Nowadays, on paper we work only for seven days, that amounts to 84 days a year. It is too less to be able to wage a legal fight and be successful,” the employee added.
When asked why workers continue to work in such conditions, a DD editor said “many of us are hopeful that someday we would also be hired as a permanent employee. We dream of the day that the call for applications will be announced.”
Given that many of them are well-qualified for their jobs and associated with DD for a long time, they believe in case of job openings, they would be the preferred candidates. They are holding their breath and waiting for that moment.
Apparently, permanent recruitments were previously made in 1997, when four Information Officer posts were filled.
SCATTERED TRADE UNIONS
All the workers unanimously said that it is usually the permanent employees who form strong trade unions, and because only top level officials are permanent in DD Chennai, there is no union.
“Only the producers and production assistants are permanent; everyone else is taken on a day to day basis, not even on a contract basis,” said one of them.
Overall around 200 casual employees are working with DD Chennai--60 are associated with the news section, 20 with agriculture and the majority work on lighting, sets, and programmes etc.
Even though the workers do not have a trade union in Doordarshan Chennai, most of them are affiliated to unions outside of DD, such as cameraman union, carpenter union, editors union etc.
Besides the casual workers, there are many more families that are dependent on DD Chennai. The many artists and guests who were regularly hired for projects are out of work because of reduced projects during the COVID-19 lockdown. Besides, the administration is complaining of lack of funds from above, even though the budget for Doordarshan has remained intact.
Newsclick contacted DD Chennai for the public broadcaster’s comment on the allegations raised by its employees, however, no response has been received yet. The story will be updated if and when we receive a response.