The Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ) has expressed its strong displeasure at former cabinet ministers representing newspaper groups as counsels before the Supreme Court. Being a party to the case pending before the Supreme Court in the capacity of the first respondent, IFWJ insisted it was inappropriate on the part of senior lawyers to don their robes and challenge the very decision which was taken by the government they constituted. “Under Dr Manmohan Singh’s government, the signatures of these cabinet ministers notified the recommendations. How can they then challenge the judgement?,” asked K Vikram Rao, President, IFWJ.
It has been IFWJ’s contention that the matter should be dealt with urgency by the court owing to the hapless and pitiable condition of newspaper employees across the country. Rao told exchange4media that the recommendations would become redundant if there is no timely action. While the journalistic fraternity is being represented in court by the likes of Colin Gonsalves and Prashant Bhushan, former union ministers Kabil Sibal and P Chidambaram are arguing on behalf of the concerned newspapers. The contempt petition in relation to the non-implementation of the Majithia Wage Board recommendations by various newspapers is slated to come up for next hearing before SC Justice Gogoi on May 3.
Constituted by the Union Labour Ministry in 2007, Justice Majithia Wage Board recommended a hike in the salaries of newspaper employees. Thereafter, the Government of India accepted the recommendations on October 25, 2011. A few weeks later, the notification was published in the Gazette of India on November 11. At that time, Sibal was presiding over both the Ministry of Communications & Information Technology and Ministry of Human Resources Development whereas Chidambaram was the Union Home Affairs Minister. Unhappy with the government’s decision, the management of several newspapers challenged the recommendations in court.
In February 2014, a bench headed by Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam ruled against the newspaper groups upholding the recommendations. “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 instalments within a period of one year from today and continue to pay the revised wages from April 2014 onwards,” SC had said. However, newspapers groups have refrained from implementing the recommendations often claiming that it will lead to crippling of their business.
When asked to comment in relation to the Majithia Wage Board recommendations, one of the owners of a large newspaper group said, “We have implemented the recommendations as suggested by the government. They are already in place. We have no concern as of today.” It was nevertheless clarified later that each company has a different way of implementing the recommendations. The newspaper in question claimed to have done so after obtaining the consent of the employees.