Monday, June 6, 2011

Wage boards challenged in Supreme Court

The latest wage board recommendations for the newspaper industry as well as the legislation under which they have been constituted, has been recently challenged in the Supreme Court in a writ petition filed under Article 32 of the Constitution by ABP Pvt Ltd, publishers of leading dailies Anandabazar Patrika and the Telegraph. The writ petition submits that The Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955, be declared illegal, null and void and ultra vires the Constitution of India. It has also submitted that the constitution of the wage boards be declared ultra vires this 1955 Act, and that the Majithia wage board award and its recommendations be hence declared unconstitutional and illegal.

The Supreme Court has subsequently issued notice to the Centre and has allowed the petitioner liberty to mention before the vacation court if it becomes imperative.

As per the writ, Article 19 (1) (a) guarantees the freedom of the Press, that is, freedom of owners to carry on their duties including the dissemination of information without onerous and prohibitive restrictions. It contends that the 1955 Act amounts to a gross violation of the petitioners’ right to carry on a newspaper business which is a basic fundamental right, guaranteed under the Constitution of India. The right of freedom of speech and expression, as guaranteed under Section 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution, is not a right that is restricted merely to freedom to write and publish whatever the author considers proper, but also includes the freedom to carry on the business of the Press, it adds.

The writ also says that Sections 8 and 9 of the Act are vague, ambiguous and confer unchartered powers on the wage board to determine wages and are hence violating the petitioner’s right under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution. In this context, it has separately pointed out that the Majithia wage board’s recommendations were beyond its jurisdiction as it has dealt with issues like retirement, pension and assured promotion and there was hence a serious jurisdictional error which would vitiate such recommendations.

The petitioner also says that no other industrial establishment of national importance is regulated in this form and required to pay wages and other elements on the basis of a wage board and that this amounts to hostile discrimination.

Further, the petition also flags the constitution of the latest Majithia wage board as it contends that the so-called independent members were not truly independent and alleges that this resulted in apparent bias, which it says violates Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

The National Commission on Labour, headed by the former labour minister Mr Ravindra Verma, had in its report submitted in 2002 recommended that there was no need for any wage board, statutory or otherwise, for fixing the wage rates for workers in any industry. Hence, the petition has pointed out that there was no justification for constituting the wage boards for journalists and non-journalists in 2007.

Moreover, it has pointed out that the practice of setting up wage boards in other industries has long been discontinued as it was felt that employers and trade unions have achieved sufficient maturity to bilaterally decide issues regarding wage fixation. There are no wage boards in other media sectors like television, radio, Internet, etc. Hence only newspapers have been singled out for this discriminatory treatment.

Further, it submits that the board did not follow the prescribed procedure and this was a material irregularity as the draft report was prepared without any prior consultations or without the tentative proposals being circulated among members. As a result, stakeholders were not even given a chance to consider the financial viability of the print media or the capacity of the newspaper establishment to bear the additional wage burden imposed by the award. Further, it adds that the draft report was prepared without even considering the tentative proposals for comments from members or indeed even getting their views on the methodology to be followed.

Moreover, it has also pointed out that the data used by the wage boards for determining the wage rates was not representative of the cross-section of the industry and the decision was only made on the basis of the available financial information which did not reflect the cross-section of the industry.

The SC has subsequently issued a notice to the Centre and has allowed the petitioner liberty to mention before the vacation court if it becomes imperative 
Source : The Times of India.

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