MASS LAY-OFFS AT DD NEWS?

Contractual journalists at the national broadcaster move the Central Administrative Tribunal fearing job loss.
Posted by Gangadhar S Patil

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Mass lay-offs may be on the anvil at the national broadcaster, Doordarshan News (DD News). Several contractual journalists, who have worked with the state-owned news channel for years, claim they have been informally told to look for another job. Employees say the management is likely to hand over pink slips to more than 100 journalists that include correspondents, anchors and production staff by June.

Fearing job loss, some of these journalists have moved the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) seeking a restraining order (injunction) against the DD News management’s decision to terminate their services. The petition, of which Newslaundry has a copy, alleges that the management’s decision to end service contracts is “illegal and against its own policy of renewing contracts every year in case it is not terminated.” The CAT looks into recruitment and service related disputes of government servants.

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The tribunal that admitted the petition on February 27 has issued a stay order on the move stating that “one set of contractual employees shall not be replaced by another set of contractual employees”. It has also directs the Prasar Bharti to respond by March 30. The notice, of which Newslaundry has a copy, has also gone to Prasar Bharati and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

“We apprehend that the entire contractual workforce would be removed in a phased manner. It’s unfair on part of the management to remove us after 10 long years of service,” says the key petitioner, Anil Punia, a senior correspondent with DD News. Punia has been working with the national news channel since its launch in 2003.

The petition has been moved by Punia along with 30 other journalists who claim they were informally told to leave the organisation. “They [contractual journalists] have been forced to work and do their normal duties even without formal letters of employment being extended, they are now sought to be illegally removed from services,” states the petition. The management has already fired three contractual journalists sending strong warning signals to the rest of temporary workforce, says Punia.

Repeated attempts to get a response from DD News Director General Akshay Rout and Parsar Bharti Chief Executive Officer Jawahar Sircar have not yielded any results. They have not responded to emailed queries and text messages. The story will be update if and when they choose to respond.

Punia states that DD News has an editorial staff of about 300 in its national bureau. Of this, about 250 are contractual employees and rest are permanent officials drawn mainly from Indian Information Service (IIS). The petition states that mass hiring of contractual employees happened in 2003 when the channel was launched and in 2006 during news channel boom. Majority of them were hired from the government-owned, Indian Institute of the Mass Communication.

In the absence of a clear human resource policy, for the last 11 years, the DD News management has been renewing work contracts on yearly basis. However, employees complain that since the past three years contracts were renewed arbitrarily. “When, most of these contracts expired in October 2013, management assured that fresh contracts would be issued as has been done in the past but until now it has not been renewed,” says a DD News journalist who did not want to be named.

In March, most journalists got three months extension until June. Barely three days later, Prasar Bharti advertised job requirements for different positions prompting employees to approach CAT. “When we saw the advertisement, we knew that management is planning to replace us and in no times three senior journalists who had not got extension were fired,” said the journalist quoted above.

DD News is the only channel of Doordarshan network that produces fresh content round the clock unlike other channels that beam outsourced programmes, the petition states. It further contends that there should have been a separate Human Resource policy for DD news but the government overlooking these requirements, clubbed it with Doordarshan’s other news channels resulting in job uncertainly for hundreds of employees. “Such type of job uncertainty is unprecedented in a government-run institution,” the petition states.

“Most of us joined hoping to become permanent staff but it never happened. We are overage for new employments and cannot work on a salary below the existing slab,” says a DD News senior correspondent who has been working with the news channel since 2007.

Contractual journalists have also complained about disparity in terms of salary and perks offered to permanent employees despite long working hour. “All contract employees work six days a week and sometimes seven days a week. However, the permanent staff worked for only five days a week,” the petition states.

The author can be contacted on Twitter @gangadharpb

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