Thursday, June 2, 2011

Majithia wage board for journalists : Should Govt. interfere in fixing salary ?

Muzzling The Media 

What better way to control the Press than to decide the salary of newspaper employees? How can a journalist write fearlessly against a government when he knows that it is this same government that decides his salary? Successive governments in India have found a simple way to try to control the Press: set up a statutory wage board for newspapers, fix unrealistically high wages enforceable under law. The Indian newspaper industry is the only industry in the country to have a statutory wage board at all! Even other media sectors like TV, radio, internet, etc, do not have this retrograde practice. Why, in this era of liberalisation where licences, quotas, permits etc are being dismantled in all spheres of economic activity, would it be that only the newspaper industry has wages fixed by the government; particularly when they are not based on market demand and supply, and are without consideration for skills and professional qualifications?

Singling out the newspaper industry like this is plainly discriminatory. It is aimed at fettering the freedoms granted to the media by the Constitution. More so, when it resolutely ignores the recommendations of the National Commission on Labour headed by the former labour minister, Ravindra Verma, which had, in 2002, stated: "There is no need for any wage board, statutory or otherwise, for fixing wage rates for workers in any industry."

In fact, statutory wage boards have not been constituted in any other industry after 1966 (except in the sugar industry where the last wage board was set up 26 years ago and subsequently abolished). This did not result in any unrest as the personnel were satisfied with the wages, and their unions were able to effectively negotiate wages in a market demand-supply scenario.

Hence, the primary motive in wage boards being constituted, only for newspapers, repeatedly, and their recommendations being accepted without regard to reality, would only appear to be to make the Press dependent on the government, thereby allowing people in power to utilise this leverage.

Fixing wage boards, and giving them arbitrary powers without adequate guidelines, is not merely undemocratic and unviable, but an outright attempt to influence. It is also against our most basic freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Our fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution not only includes the freedom to write and publish what the author considers proper, but also the freedom to carry on the business of print media so that information may be disseminated and excessive prohibition circumventing such freedoms by state intervention and/or regulations may be avoided.

How can newspapers carry on their business when they have no say in the process of salary fixing of their own employees? This is outright manipulation of their business whereby the government holds out a threat to their viability and eventual survival. How can newspapers remain viable if already disproportionately bloated wage bills turn astronomical? For instance, they would, as per the latest recommendations, have to pay peons and drivers up to Rs 45,000 a month - several times what a jawan risking his life on our borders gets! Why doesn't the government pay its employees the salary it is recommending?

Ironically, in this entire exercise, the government neither has to pay a penny of the wages it so blithely mandates, nor does it have to bail out the newspapers which sink under the weight of such action. A Hewitt survey indicates that wage board employees before these current recommendations are getting 26-44% more than their counterparts even in high-profile MNCs.

That is why the latest Justice Majithia wage board's recommendation of a huge 80-100% wage hike - coming on top of an unprecedented 30% interim relief with effect from January 2008 - has led to an outcry in the newspaper industry which, thanks to previous mandates, already had very high entry level wages for workmen vis-a-vis market rates. The print media's apex Indian Newspaper Society has said that implementing these rates would shut down most newspapers - and not just the small and medium ones. A leading newspaper group, ABP Pvt Ltd, has already gone to the Supreme Court.

It is now in the government's own interest to restore this basic freedom to the Press so that it can carry on its business without state regulation. Because tools like the wage board not only pressurise the Press and control the media in the crudest and most untenable manner possible - but also subvert our very basic freedoms, by making the Press unviabl

An article by CEO, Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd. 

Source : Times of India.


lalita said...

mr.dhariwal is getting a fat pay packet, which grows every year. where as the press employees get 300-400 re. hike every year. the wage board is the only hope of groth for them which comes after 10 to 12 years.

Anonymous said...

wage boards should be constituted to decide salary hikes to working journalists. CEOS decide company policies in advertisement promotion, circulation but not salaries. if they are successfull they get huge salaries, modern cars, free accommodation and promotions. where as ordinary employees get meager hikes. companies won't shut down, if they share a few bucks with employees. why don't govt conduct raids on press? so that they could find out how huge evasions of taxes are being practiced by press?

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