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They can Save Many Kumars by Paying Pending Salaries, say Protesting UNI Employees

Ravi Kaushal |
Employees of United News of India, joined by several journalist organisations, paid tribute to photographer T Kumar, who died by suicide in his workplace in Chennai, and protested across the country demanding pending salaries.
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Delhi: An anguished Subhash Bedwal screams loudly at the gate of headquarters of United News of India (UNI) when he was confronted by an administration staff to stop the sloganeering. Bedwal, a former employee of the news agency, was protesting along with other retired and serving employees, to pay tribute to late photographer T Kumar who committed suicide in UNI’s Chennai office, owing non-payment of salary since the past  five years.

The employees of the agency protested outside its bureaus in Chennai, Chandigarh, Patna, Bengaluru and Bhopal where the members of Madras Union of Journalists, Tamil Nadu Press Photographers Association, Women Journalists Forum, Network of Women in Indian Media, Delhi Union of Journalists, Kerala Union of Working Journalists and Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists too expressed their solidarity. The protesters demanded that bereaved family should be given Rs 10 lakh as interim compensation and other dues worth Rs 1 crore immediately.

Bedwal said he joined the agency in 1994 as temporary staff. Later, his services were made permanent as messenger in 2004.

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“Post 2006, my salary came in instalments. The administration always told me that agency was going through financial distress and the benefits would be regularised once it recovers from the situation. I was content but I ran out of patience when the agency refused to pay me Rs 10,000 when my mother was admitted in Kailash Hospital. Today, I drive auto rickshaw to run my family. The administration flew away to Chennai to hand over a cheque of Rs 2 lakh to Kumar’s bereaved family. Had this been given earlier, we could have saved Kumar.”

Mathura Prasad Tiwari, another UNI employee, who has been serving the agency since1986, told NewsClick that subsequent changes in management did not bring any effective change in the administration and put employees at the receiving end without resolution of pending issues. “We used to get partial salaries after a gap of two to three months. Later, the administration said all employees from previous regimes will get a uniform salary of Rs 15,000. With current situation, I wonder if this amount too will come. If they pay our dues, I would be doing some work. How can I forget Rs 35 lakh dues for which I worked my entire life?”

The employees said the management team led by the Manipal group was hiring contract employees and there were no financial issues in paying them good salaries. “

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Sujata Madhok from DUJ, who joined the protest, said the management must resolve the crisis by negotiating with employees. “It is obliged to give employees the benefits mandated by law. A smarter management would have monetised the assets and paid employees. You cannot keep them hanging. A lot of employees are fighting their cases in courts and it is taking advantage of judicial process which is de-facto so slow in justice delivery,” she said.

Rise and Debacle of UNI

Established in 1961, UNI acted as facilitator of news and photo service to newspapers and international news agencies. It enjoys the reputation of breaking news about the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. However, the situation changed dramatically when these agencies struck contracts with different agencies to provide services post economic  liberalisation in 1991.

The subscription model of the agency got another severe jolt in 2007 when one of its leading consumers, The Hindu, cancelled its subscription worth Rs 13 lakh per month. However, the final blow came when the government cancelled the subscription of Prasar Bharati and All India Radio in 2020.

The agencies paid UNI a sum of Rs 6.5 crore per year for its services. 

Akin to Press Trust of India, UNI is also managed by a board of directors from Jagran Prakashan Ltd, Kasturi and Sons Ltd, Express Publication (Madurai), HT Media Ltd, Statesman Ltd, Nava Bharat Press (Bhopal) Ltd, ABP Pvt Ltd, and Times of India and other news outlets.

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