The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) in a memorandum to the newly elected Member of Parliament, yesterday, registered their objection to the announcement made by Minister for Labour Santosh Gangwar, that new Labour Codes will be introduced in the forthcoming session of the 17th Lok Sabha. Calling it an urgent issue, the memorandum says that “the media community was shocked to find that the Working Journalists & Other News Paper Employees (Conditions of Service & Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955 and the Working Journalists (Fixation of Wages) Act, 1958 are both to be repealed through these Labour Codes.”
The memorandum, signed by the President of DUJ and its General Secretary , further states that the Acts were introduced by the Members of Parliament to protect journalists and enable them to earn a decent livelihood by setting basic standards for the newspaper industry. However, these laws are “now sought to be repealed by placing them innocuously in a Labour Code on Occupational Health and Safety.”
The memo stated: We are shocked to find that the Working Journalists & Other News Paper Employees (Conditions of Service & Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955 and The Working Journalists (Fixation of Wages) Act, 1958 are both to be repealed through these Labour Codes. It is honourable Members of Parliament who, shortly after Independence, realised the need to protect journalists and enable them to earn a decent livelihood by setting basic standards for the newspaper industry through these two Acts. It added ‘We are intrigued at how these laws are now sought to be repealed by placing them innocuously in a Labour Code on Occupational Health and Safety.
These two Acts are the aadhar of the print media in India. It is these Acts that regulate working conditions, including working hours, night shifts, earned leaves, maternity leave, provident fund etc and enable the periodic setting up of Wage Boards that decide pay scales for the newspaper industry. They set basic standards for all media. We do not understand why these Acts should be repealed. Without such legal protection the independence of journalists shall be further weakened. Hire and fire is becoming the norm in the media industry and the urgent need is to provide further rights and protections, not take away the limited labour rights we have today.
Already, through measures such as short term contracts, many journalists have been rendered financially insecure and vulnerable. The absence of a decent pension and other benefits compounds our problems.
As a 70 year old union of media workers we have long demanded the extension of the Working Journalists Acts to the entire media spectrum, including television and all digital news media. Instead of conceding this demand, the government seems bent on withdrawing even the existing protections. The net result would be total anarchy in the media industry.
Among the Acts to be repealed are the Factories Act, The Mines Act, the Building & Other Construction Workers Act, the Contract Labour Act, the Inter State Migrant Workers Act and other path breaking legislation for the welfare of workers. The sole beneficiaries of this move will be industrialists and other employers; the losers will be India’s people.
The entire exercise is hastily planned and extremely arbitrary. Lumping together various Acts that Parliament in its wisdom has passed over the long period of 70 plus years, in response to the specific nature and needs of various industries and work sectors, seems absurd. For instance, why should dock workers and journalists be governed by the same law? How much do these two sectors have in common? The situation of beedi workers is completely different from those in the automobile sector, so why should they be clubbed together?
Each sectoral Act has been developed, drafted and re-drafted by various labour experts, in response to the needs of the particular sector. In many cases Acts have been a response to demands from workers in specific industries who have fought prolonged struggles to ensure a modicum of livelihood security through legislative measures.
The memo stated that the growing inequalities in our society and the tremendous concentration of wealth in a few hands . These are dangerous for both democracy and our youthful, aspirational population.
The DUJ appealed to ask the Government of India to reconsider its anti-labour stand and defend our rights to a decent life and livelihood. It hoped that they would use their office and all powers at their command to urge the Government to withdraw the proposed Labour Codes immediately.