Setting a precedent for the welfare of journalists, the Assam Tribune Group of Newspapers has become the first media house in the country to implement the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Board from January this year. The Group was also one of the first media houses to implement all the other Wage Board recommendations.
Saifuddin Ahmed, president of the Assam Tribune Employees Union (ATEU), an affiliated unit of the All India Newspaper Employees Federation, is happy that their efforts have borne fruit. Their union had come to an agreement with the Tribune authorities and all the employees of the group received their new wages from this month. “They will now get a hike of Rs. 15,000 on an average. Other equivalent revenue-earning media houses should also implement these recommendations. If they fail to do so, all government advertisements should be stopped to these media houses,” he says.
Editor and managing director of The Assam Tribune P G Baruah said: "We have done our duty and given the employees their due. We don't want to speak for ourselves. Let others talk about our gesture."
This benevolent move by the authorities has also inspired the employees to work harder. “It is the responsibility of all employees to work for the growth of our organisation. We will have to strive to improve the work culture,” adds Mr. Ahmed.
Established on August 4, 1939, the Assam Tribune is the highest circulated English daily in the region with an employee strength of about 400, including around 100 journalists. The group also has Assamese dailies Dainik Asom and Asom Bani, and literary magazine Garioshi.
Earlier a tripartite committee was formed with the Government of Assam, ATEU, Journalists Union of Assam, and the Indian Federation of Journalists Union. This committee had approached all media houses and checked their balance sheets and pay bill details and prepared a report and submitted it to the government. It was found that nobody was following the Wage Board recommendations.
The Confederation of Newspaper and News Agency Employees’ Organisations (CNNAEO) had been spearheading the nationwide agitation for early notification of the wage board’s recommendations for journalists and non-journalists. Finally, the Union Cabinet approved the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Boards providing for an increase in the salaries and allowances of journalists and non-journalists. The revised wages will be applicable from July 1, 2010, while allowances such as transport, house rent and hardship shall be effective from the date of notification of the awards in the Gazette.
The revised pay scale is based on old basic pay plus DA admissible up to June, 2010, plus 30 per cent of the interim relief which has already been given.
Newspapers with a gross revenue of Rs. 1,000 crore and above have been put in the top category of Class I, Rs. 500 crore (II), Rs. 100 crore and above but less than Rs. 500 crore (III), Rs. 50 crore and above but less than Rs. 100 crore (IV), Rs. 10 crore and above but less than Rs. 50 crore (V), Rs. 5 crore and above but less than Rs. 10 crore (VI), Rs. 1 crore and above but less than Rs. 5 crore (VII) and less than Rs. 1 crore (VIII). In the case of news agencies, those with gross revenue of Rs. 60 crore and above have been put in the top category of Class I while those above Rs. 30 crore but less than Rs. 60 crore (II), Rs. 10 crore and above but less than Rs. 30 crore (III) and less than Rs. 10 crores (IV).
The Assam Tribune group has been implementing the Wage Board recommendations from 1967 and is one of the few media houses in the country which have vibrant unions. Keshav Kalita, President of the Assam Union of Working Journalists says: “Forming a union in every media house is a must, but the management does not allow it to happen. All journalists must agree on a common minimum programme to fight for their rights.” He agrees that owing to lack of regulations, a few employees indulge in corruption while the honest ones are deprived of benefits.
The government had constituted two wage boards in May 2007. The Chairman of the Wage boards G R Majithia submitted the final report to the Government on December 31 last year. As per the Wage Board recommendations, HRA would be applicable at the rate of 30, 20 and 10 per cent respectively for the X, Y and Z category cities, while the same in the case of transport allowances will be at the rate of 20, 10 and 5 per cent. Night shift allowances of Rs. 100 per night will be paid to employees of newspaper establishments in classes I and II, Rs. 75 per night in classes III and IV and Rs. 50 per night for V to VIII. The employees of news agencies falling in classes I and II shall be paid Rs. 100 per night shift and those falling in classes III and IV Rs. 50.
Hardship allowance of Rs. 1,000 will be paid for the first four classes of newspaper establishments and first two classes of news agencies and Rs. 500 for the remaining classes. Medical allowance of Rs. 1,000 a month will be paid to those in the top two classes of newspapers and news agencies and Rs. 500 for III and IV categories in newspapers.
Geetartha Pathak, president of the Journalists Union of Assam, an affiliated body of the Indian Journalists Union, lauded the Assam Tribune authorities. “The Wage Board recommendations are legally mandatory. But every time a wage board announces its recommendations, the managements of some big media houses try delaying tactics by going to the court or by lobbying. They try to keep the recommendations in the cold storage. Some media houses have even demanded that the Working Journalists Act be scrapped.”
Journalists are the most vulnerable section in a media house and hence are the most exploited. Mr. Pathak says: “The management cannot compromise when the price of newsprint or other technical equipment rise. But they try to compromise on the welfare of the journalists. This move by the Assam Tribune group has proved that big media houses can implement these recommendations but are reluctant to do it.”