NUJ goes on legal battle against Lokmat management for alleged illegal layoff of journalists

Lokmat representatives have been absent twice at the hearing

Credit : The Week

Ratnagiri: Citing the COVID19 pandemic, various news organizations have laid off their employees, even after several directives and appeals by the governments to not do so. The National Union of Journalists, Maharashtra chapter, has taken the judicial route to demand justice against these massive lay-offs by news organisations.

Numerous newspapers are published in Maharashtra and journalists work at the district, taluka and village levels. Several newspaper bureaus which were functional in the district have faced complete shutdowns due to the pandemic situation. Hundreds of employees, including designers, marketing professionals, photographers along with reporters and editorial desk staff, have been laid off by these organisations who have had turnovers reaching multiple million rupee figures. Journalist Prakash Varadkar, working with a well known Marathi newspaper Lokmat, was laid off in such a fashion after he demanded the implementation of the Majithia Commission recommendations.

The journalist unions have time and again approached the apex court to implement the recommendations of the Majithia Commission so that journalists and workers working in newspapers could get better salaries and facilities. Newspaper owners, as well as management, have for years lobbied against the implementation of the recommendations of the commission which include setting up a wage board for journalists and providing them several employment benefits. Despite the Supreme Court's order to implement these recommendations, most newspapers have not implemented them for decades.

Since his termination, Varadkar has started a legal battle to get justice for the hundreds and thousands of media persons affected during this crisis. Attending the hearing held on August 20 at the Assistant Commissionerate of Labor, Ratnagiri, he has registered a demand for re-employment, giving the benefit of Majithia Commission. The representatives of Lokmat however, did not attend the hearing.

Lokmat representatives have been absent twice at the hearing, but the attendance is mandatory on next date according to the Divisional Assistant Labour Commissioner Vishwas Jadhav.

"Even though we are taking the complaint very seriously, representatives of the Lokmat establishment did not attend the hearing held at the DLC's office. It is now inevitable to attend the next hearing," said Divisional Assistant Labor Commissioner Vishwas Jadhav.  During the hearing held at his office on 20th August at 12.30 pm, Lokmat Ratnagiri's Deputy Editor / Correspondent Prakash Varadkar's statement was recorded.

NUJ Maharashtra President and Majithia Tripartite Inspection Committee Member Sheetal Kardekar said that it was mandatory to pay the arrears as per the recommendation of Majithia Pay Commission.  However, due to this demand, many journalists have been fired or have faced harassment by newspaper managements even in the past. 


Several acts to protect media employees

The Majithia Wage Board was set up in 2007 for the salaries and allowances of journalists during the UPA government. The law, however, came into force in February 2014.

In Maharashtra, the Journalist Protection Act was passed on April 7, 2017, in both the Houses of the Legislature. Three years after the incident, the law is not being enforced. The journalist pension scheme was also announced at the budget session in Nagpur. This Majithia Pay Commission is applicable to full time, part-time, permanent and also on contractual employees.

Newspapers that claim readerships in millions and get "A" ratings in sales show lesser numbers of journalists and workers on record. While some newspapers have a large number of journalists and workers, they have not recognised them as journalists and workers in their newspapers to the labour department. The Majithia Commission's recommendations are denied to these 'unrecognised' journalists through such loopholes which have gone unopposed for decades.