New labour code will scrap wage board for journalists: Here're the details

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The wage board for journalists will be a thing of the past with the Parliament passing the Code on Wages Bill, 2019. However, much of the other apprehensions expressed in certain quarters, such as longer working hours and shorter notice period for firing journalists  is not well founded as of now. 

The Code on Minimum Wages passed by Parliament provides only for floors on wages to be set by the Centre, said K R Shyam Sundar, professor, XLRI, Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur. It does not provide for wage boards. The states will then fix their own minimum wages, at least at the level set by the Centre.

“I don’t see the possibility of constituting wage boards. That mechanism will be closed. However, that would be done after passage of the code on occupational safety, health and working conditions,” he said.

He said the wage board system was there in some industries, such as textiles and cotton, but were dismantled in the 1970s. So far, six wage boards were constituted for working journalists, the latest being under the chairmanship of Justice Gurbax Rai Majithia. There were fears that these Codes would increase the working hours for journalists.  However, the fears are misplaced as of now. While OSHWC said the government will fix working hours in other industries, it has specific details on journalists. It said journalists will work for a maximum of 144 hours during any period of four consecutive weeks and must be provided with a rest of 24 hours in a week, explained Atual Gupta, partner at Trilegal.

These working hours are the same as provided in the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, he said. 

So far as the fear of lesser month of notice period before retrenchment is concerned, the issue would be dealt in the Code on Industrial Relations Bill, which is yet to be tabled by the government in Parliament. This Code was controversial since in its earlier draft, it had talked of easier retrenchment norms, which was shelved later after protests by unions.

A major shortcoming of the journalist Act of 1955, cited above, is that it applies only to print journalists.

The draft on OSHWC did include only newspaper journalists under its ambit. However, when the Bill was tabled in Parliament, it includes journalists of electronic media in its ambit as well.

S K Singhi, founder and managing partner S K Singhi & Co, said the new code includes those working in radio, audio visual and electronic media in the definition of working journalists.

However, working journalists are included within the definition of workers in the OSHWC, said Shyam Sunder.

This may cause some discomfort in some quarters as workers are normally taken as the blue collar workers, while employees is a broader definition.

K Vikram Rao, president of the Federation of Working Journalists, said, “We are thinking persons. We have some thoughts.”

He said bringing Codes for labour reforms and including journalists in it without talking to journalist bodies is undemocratic.

Singhi, however, said there were many benefits in the proposed OSHWC for journalists compared to the current Act. For instance, he said while no responsibility of employers was fixed in the existing journalist Act, the proposed OSHWC provides that employers will be responsible for maintaining health and working conditions in offices as prescribed by the government. Employers will also be bound to perform certain welfare activities, once the Code is passed by Parliament and then enacted, he said.

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