The Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 was enacted keeping in view the unique status of the Forth Estate of Indian democracy and to insulate journalists from any kind of exploitation by their employers which is a sin qua non for a free and independent press. It served its purposes in the initial years after its implementation but after the advent of the global marketing media, it lost its relevance and now is practically a dead letter as the Central Government routinely appoints a Wage Board after some hue and cry by the working journalist.
The wage board submits its report after several years which is accepted and notified by the Central Government with some riders thereafter the newspaper managements start inventing ways and means to avoid the liability arising out of the recommendations. Several rounds of litigation takes place which is finally taken up to Supreme Court. Finally when the implementation in eminent, the news paper establishments take the plea of financial burden and create a dead lock. The community of working journalists is also not so enthusiastic in implementation of the wage board recommendations and the matter becomes only an important subject for protests, seminars, and speeches. The real beneficiaries for whom the wage board recommendations are made seldom get any benefit in time. Keeping all that aside we find that there is a lot of scope for the working journalists to take legal remedies if the newspaper establishment is not releasing the benefits. We have tried to discuss in brief the ways and means to claim the said benefits from the employers.
Section 9 of the said Act empowers the Central Government to constitute a Wage Board for determing the service conditions and wages for the newspaper employees. Section 10 of the said Act deals with the recommendations of the Wage Board constituted by the central Government and Section 12 of the said Act empowers the Central Government to enforce the recommendations of the Wage Boards. A combined reading of all these provisions make it crystal clear that the management of the newspaper establishments have no choice then to pay the benefits recommended by the Wage Board which has a statutory force and the employer cannot escape the same under any circumstances.
The latest Wage Board was appointed by the Central Government in May, 2007 commonly called as Majithia Wage Board submitted its recommendations to the Central Government after hearing all the parties and holding several rounds of hearings and deliberations. Its recommendations were accepted by the Central Government on 25/10/2011 and were notified on 11/11/2011 in the official gazette thereby giving it a statutory force. The employers in the meanwhile had approached the Supreme Court raising several objections against the recommendations of the Wage Board and the matter remained pending before the Supreme Court for decision. Dust was however cleared by Supreme Court vide its detailed judgment dated 7/2/2014 when all the writ petitions filed by the employers were dismissed and following observations were made by the Supreme Court in the operating part of the judgment:
“71) Accordingly, we hold that the recommendations of the Wage Boards are valid in law, based on genuine and acceptable considerations and there is no valid ground for interference under Article 32 of the Constitution of India.
72) Consequently, all the writ petitions are dismissed with no order as to costs.
73) In view of our conclusion and dismissal of all the writ petitions, the wages as revised/determined shall be payable from 11.11.2011 when the Government of India notified the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Boards. All the arrears up to March, 2014 shall be paid to all eligible persons in four equal installments within a period of one year from today and continue to pay the revised wages from April, 2014 onwards.
74) In view of the disposal of the writ petitions, the contempt petition is closed.”
A plain reading of the said judgment of Supreme Court clarifies that the employees of the news papers are entitled to the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Board from the date of its notification i.e. 11/11/2011, the managements are liable to pay the entitlement to the employees upto March, 2014 in four equal installments and continue to pay the revised wages /benefits from April, 2014 onwards.
It is sad to observe that most of the newspaper establishments have not complied with the directions issued by the Supreme Court till date. They have not released the arrears of the dues nor have they implemented the same w.e.f. April, 2014 on its employees. Most of the employ’s representative bodies of the newspapers employees are making a hue and cry but the benefits are still a distant dream for most of the employees working in newspaper establishment. The newspaper managements are willfully, deliberately violating the directions of the Supreme Court. It’s a paradox that the community which makes the general people aware of their rights is unable to secure its own rights.
ISSUES RELATED TO IMPLEMENTATION OF THE WAGE BOARD RECOMMENDATIONS:
i) Wage board recommendations cover all news paper establishments, news agencies, all establishments associated with news paper establishments ( even the sister concerns of news paper establishments).
ii) All employees including working journalists, non-journalists, and administrative staff of news paper establishments are entitled to benefits of wage board recommendations.
iii) The nomenclature of the posts and nature of duties are defined under wage board recommendations, based on which the entitlement of the employee concerned is to be fixed. Nomenclature of post is not the sole basis of classification; determinative factors are nature of duties of employee.
iv) The employee concerned can directly file an application under Section 17 (1) of the The Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees ( Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 for recovery of his dues based on the recommendations of the wage boards. He is entitled to all the benefits from the date of notification of wage board recommendations i.e. 11/11/11 and he can claim interest on the unpaid amount in the application.
v) Application under Section 17 (1) of the The Working Journalists and Other Newspaper Employees ( Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1955 is very simple and can be filed before the concerned Assistant Labour Commissioner for issuance of recovery certificate directly. Please be clear on it as no reference to the courts is required in this case as the claim is based on the statutory notification of the Central Government and the amount is due under the statutory wage board recommendations which stands accepted and notified.
vi) One can approach the High Court against any delay, irregularity by the Labour Authorities in the matter under the influence of managements. No direct petition to High Court can be however filed in the matter.
vii) One application can contain claims of several employees however for better and effective handling it is advisable to file separate application for each employee in one bunch.
viii) No advance notice to the employer is required however it is advised that a notice of demand be given to the employer before filing the application.
ix) No lawyer is required for filing and handling such application generally as it is a summary process.
x) In the present scenario, the managements are also committing contempt of the orders dated 7/2/2014 passed by the Supreme Court hence contempt petition can also be filed before the Supreme Court by the willing organizations or employees.
xi) The claims of retired employees after 11/11/11 also remain alive and can be pursued even by their LRs even after their death.