Two major newspaper houses of Assam namely; Assam Tribune Pvt. Ltd., the publishers of ‘Assam Tribune’, ‘Dainik Asom’, ‘Asom Bani’ and ‘Gariyashi’ and Omega Printers & Publishers Pvt. Ltd., which publishes ‘Sentinel’ (English) and ‘Sentinel’ (Hindi) have implemented the Majithia Wage Board Award. The ‘Joint Inspection Team’ (JIT) constituted by the Govt. of Assam in compliance with the order of the Supreme Court of India has said in its report.
The Joint Inspection Team (JIT) consisted of the officials of the Labour Department of the Government of Assam and ‘All Assam Media Employees Federation’ (AAMEF), headed by Shri Keshab Kalita, who is also the President of ‘Assam Union of Working Journalists’ (AUWJ). It may be noted here that the ‘Assam Tribune’ was the first newspaper of the country to have implemented the Majithia Award, immediately after its notification by the Government of India on 11.11.2011. It may be of interest to know that during the course of hearings of the bunch of the Writ Petitions filed by the newspaper owners, the Supreme Court had asked them that if the Assam Tribune Group of Newspapers could have no difficulty in implementing the Award, why should the big newspapers of the country make hue and cry over the financial burden? The counsel for the owners did not have any reply to the query.
Although the report of the Labour Commissioner is yet to be filed in the Supreme Court yet a copy of it has been made available to us by the ‘Assam Union of Working Journalists’, a constituent of the joint inspection team. The JIT report further says that the news agencies, the PTI and the UNI have also claimed to have implemented the Award. Surprisingly, an important newspaper group, G.L. Publications Ltd. the publishers of ‘Amar Asom’ (Assamies), ‘Purbanchal Prahari’ (Hindi), ‘Meghalaya Guardian’ and ‘North-East Times’ (English) has failed to implement the Award. Most of the newspapers like the ‘Dainik Jugasankh’, ‘Dainik Prantojyoti’ (Bangali Dailies), ‘Agradoot’, ‘Asomiya Khabar’, ‘Jansadharan’ and ‘Dainik Batori Kakot’ (Assemies) have been candid to give in writing that they have not been able to implement the Award fully due to the financial constraints. It is quite significant the newspapers of Assam have not resorted to the nasty tactics of the newspapers of the Hindi heartland, like those of ‘Dainik Jagran’, ‘Rajasthan Patrika’ and ‘Dainik Bhaskar’, who coerced their employees in obtaining undertakings under Section 20-J of the Award to deny them the benefits of the Award.
It is strange that a panic is being created by some people with regard to the Section 20-J but there is nothing to be scared of it. The Wage Board is the creation of the Working Journalists Act,1955 and any recommendation or any interpretation of the recommendations of the Award, that is contrary or inconsistent with the provisions of the Act would be ‘null and void’ to that extent. Therefore, the employees of the newspapers should harbour no fear or panic with regard to the Section 20-J of the Majithia Award even if the managements have forced them to sign on any undertaking.
Section 20-J is, in fact, to protect the benefits of those employees, who have been getting more than what the Wage Board has given and not to deny the wages and allowances of those employees, who draw less wages than what the Majithia has recommended.