People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 09

March 02, 2014


Scribes Win Wage Board Battle


IN February 7, the Supreme Court finally dismissed the case that newspaper owners had collectively filed to deny the working journalists and other newspaper employees the legitimate dues announced by the Majithia wage board.


The court ruled that the wages awarded by Justice Majithia must be paid from November 11, 2011, the date on which the award was notified by the central government. Its recommendations are to be implemented from April 2014 and arrears paid in four instalments within a year.


This is a blow to the employers who tried to deny justice to the journos and succeeded in delaying it. But the scribes, with help from their advocates, boldly faced the formidable challenge posed by an array of top, highly paid lawyers employed by the managements who went to the extent of challenging the Working Journalists Act itself.


Organisations like the Confederation of Newspaper & News Agency Employees and others played a stellar role in the whole fight. Through a statement issued on the day, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) congratulated the numerous state and national level unions who battled over the years for the wage board, and urged upon them to boldly lead the struggle for implementation now.


The DUJ also urged the employers to gracefully accept the verdict and honour the orders of the highest court of the land by swiftly implementing the wage board award. 


The DUJ was in the lead from the very start of this struggle and has assured that it would continue its efforts to ensure speedy implementation of the award.




Through a statement issued the next day, the DUJ and its Delhi Press Unity Centre condemned the campaign started by The Times of India group against the Supreme Court judgement of February 7, 2014. 


In their statement, DUJ president Ms Sujata Madhok and Delhi Press Unity Centre (DPUC) secretary Rajkumar said: “It is a singular irony that the Bennett Coleman & Co, the biggest newspaper group with enormous revenues at its command, refuses to pay employees the wages recommended by a tripartite wage board which included representatives of the newspaper industry.”


The statement noted that the last wage revision in the industry had taken place more than a decade back, and that the Supreme Court judgement would provide great relief to hundreds of newspaper employees all over the country.


It noted that the Bennett Coleman group was misusing the pages of its dailies to conduct a propaganda war against the ruling of the Supreme Court. In the past too, the dailies have waged similar wars against the newspaper and news agency unions, while denying them any right to reply. The voices of newspaper and news agency journalists and other employees are banned from their publications, as if they have no right to freedom of the press.


The statement pointed out that the Times of India’s critique of the Supreme Court judgement as well as the Wage Award used various spurious arguments. For example, it argued that the Working Journalists Act is “an antiquated piece of legislation that has lost all social relevance in the modern age” and that other media are not “shackled” by such legislation. But the fact is that the Working Journalists Act is an enabling legislation; it enables the industry to establish basic standards of employment and protects journalists from exploitation in regard to working conditions, hours of work, night shifts, earned leave, maternity leave, payment of wages and gratuity etc.  These are core labour standards and the legislation needs to be extended to other such as TV, radio and internet media where the employees remain largely unprotected. 


The Times also argued that wages should be decided by a “free and fair labour market” based on “supply and demand” rather than on the capacity of the industry to pay. But this free market logic will only ensure that the organised sector becomes disorganised. The newspaper industry is getting increasingly corporatised (several companies are now on the stock market) and wants to push non-management employees into the unorganised sector where they are a ‘flexible’ workforce employed on contracts, paid the lowest possible wages and chucked out at will.


The DUJ-DPUC statement said the recent history of newspaper industry is replete with examples of growing intolerance displayed by managements towards unions and their office bearers. Unions have been broken in several nefarious ways, including scapegoating and dismissal of union office bearers, mass retrenchments of blue collar workers and the introduction of illegal contract system of employment. That is the ‘flexibility’ the employers demand.       


Naked exploitation of the workforce is the objective underlying the Times of India’s “fundamental question” as to whether government “should be allowed to interfere in what is essentially an employer-employee relationship, that too in an organised, urban-centric industry.” However, the same employers want to have as much government help as possible in the form of government advertising, land allotments at throwaway prices, subsidised newsprint, income tax exemptions, postal concessions and several other concessions that they have misused to enrich themselves over the years. These concessions are demanded on the assumption that the press serves a public purpose though in fact it is increasingly serving private interests. The Times of India and other newspaper groups are also willing to spend huge amounts of money on extravaganzas like holding film festivals abroad or award functions for various influential groups, but do not want to pay their own employees a fair wage. 


To suggest that no law is needed for the media industry is to make an argument for anarchy. While extracting maximum labour from employees by insisting on higher productivity, the industry wishes to deny them basic labour rights, fair wages and freedom of expression.  


As for the argument that paying the wage board award would sharply hike the wages is also absurd. In fact, a majority of newspapers fall into low paying categories. According to the Press Information Bureau’s press release when the award was announced, “The monthly emoluments for the lowest category of employee in the lowest class of establishment would work out to be Rs 9,000 for the basic pay at floor level minimum wage of Rs 5,000. The revised basic pay would however range from Rs 9,000 to Rs 17,500 for non-journalists and from Rs 13,000 to Rs 25,000 for working journalists in the top establishments having gross revenues of more than Rs 1,000 crore.” A majority of newspaper groups do not fall into the Rs 1,000 crore revenue category, the DUJ-DPUC statement stressed. The statement also pointed out that the finances of the industry are opaque in nature as the managements persistently have refused to provide financial data to successive wage boards.