The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ), in a press release on July 17, has appealed to the MPs to “rise in unison”, and to save the Working Journalists and Other News Paper Employees (Conditions of Service and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955 and the Working Journalists (Fixation of Wages) Act, 1958. The journalists’ body has asked for immediate steps to announce the overdue new wage board for the working journalists and press workers, as per demands and suggestions of the various journalists’ bodies and All India Newspaper Employees Federation (AINEF). It has demanded that the Act be made applicable to the entire newspaper industry, including the broadcasting and TV networks to “save journalism for tomorrow”.
On the eve of the current session of Parliament, DUJ President S K Pande and General Secretary Sujata Madhok have claimed that there are reports to suggest that the government plans to repeal these acts by sleight of hand – by placing them innocuously in a list of labour laws to be repealed through a Labour Code on Occupational Health and Safety. The government has drafted four Labour Codes, which will demolish most of the hard-earned rights of the working class, including the rights that earlier generations of journalists fought for and secured.
The press release by the DUJ says, “The Working Journalists Act is the foundation for establishing the working conditions, hours of work, number of night shifts, earned leaves, maternity leaves, bonus and other entitlements of those working in the print media, both journalists and non-journalists. It enables the laying down of pay scales, defines jobs and designations and the periodic establishment of wage boards for the newspaper industry.” It further claims that repealing it would mean total anarchy in the industry. “Anarchy, in fact, has already set in with contracts, voucher payments and what not being the norm.”
DUJ has further opposed the government’s proposal to replace the many existing acts by a set of arbitrary codes. Among the acts to be repealed are the Factories Act, The Mines Act, the Building & Other Construction Workers Act, the Contract Labour Act, the Inter State Migrant Workers Act and other legislations in place for the welfare of workers. “The sole beneficiaries of this move will be industrialists, big capitalists and other employers; the losers will be India’s working people,” it says.
It may be noted, the statement added, that for the past two years powerful media barons have unleashed further insecurity in the newspaper industry by closing down various editions, and by not implementing the previous wage board by using various subterfuges including shifting key offices from Delhi to neighbouring areas to escape the laws in Delhi. On January 5, 2017, the Hindustan Times announced the closure of four of its editions and bureaus – Kolkata, Bhopal, Indore, Ranchi, Allahabad, Varanasi and Kanpur – from January 9, while the employees were rendered jobless. “In this very newspaper group, in the past decade, over 500 have lost their jobs in Delhi alone, including over 100 journalists. Ironically, over 300 cases are still pending in the courts in Delhi on various levels, while some non-implementation of wage board cases have been shuttled from Delhi to UP and other states. Over 15 employees have lost their lives,” said the press release.