Vol. XLIII No. 26 June 30, 2019

DUJ Writes to MPs on New Labour Codes

THE Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) has submitted a memorandum to parliamentarians on June 25, drawing their attention to an urgent issue that concerns journalists today. The minister for labour Santosh Gangwar has announced that new labour codes will be introduced in the forthcoming session of the Lok Sabha.

It is shocking 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Service & Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1955 and the Working Journalists (Fixation of Wages) Act, 1958 are both to be repealed through these labour codes.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 the 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.  

DUJ is intrigued at how these laws are now sought to be repealed by placing them innocuously in a labour code on occupational safety and health.

These two Acts are the basis 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  We do not understand why these Acts should be repealed.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, said the DUJ. 

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 the problems of journalists.

As a 70 year old union of media workers, DUJ has 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.

DUJ views the attempt to bring in four labour codes, to replace as many as 44 vital labour legislations, as an attack on the hard won rights of working people. The central trade unions and other trade unions of the unorganised sector have already opposed the labour codes. These labour codes are meant to ensure the ‘ease of doing business’ while undermining the average citizen’s ‘ease of working and living’.

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 legislations 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, questioned the DUJ.

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.

We understand the government’s wish to be ‘market friendly’ and stimulate growth by numerous concessions to industry and business but no growth is possible without work and money in the hands of ordinary people. The current slump in various sectors of the economy is a pointer to the lack of demand that is usually the primary driver of growth, said DUJ.

DUJ pointed to 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, it said and appealed the parliamentarians to ask the government of India to reconsider its anti-labour stand and withdraw the proposed labour codes immediately.