Just hours before holding a board meeting on Saturday, India’s largest news agency—Press Trust of India—retrenched 297 out of 530 employees under the Majithia wage board, stating that “there is no work” for them. In effect, nearly 60 per cent of employees were sacked—this number presents a sharp contrast to the general perception in the media industry that PTI jobs come with a certain security similar to that of government jobs.
Thirty-six of 80 bureaus and centres of PTI witnessed these sackings. In Delhi, 77 non-journalist PTI workers were left jobless. Meanwhile, the management on its part put up the retrenchment notice on its website. It has also already announced the retrenchment package, and the money was deposited in the now-sacked employees’ bank accounts.
The notification of retrenchment was signed by Chief Administrative Officer, MR Mishra. “I am not authorised to speak” on this issue, he said, when Newslaundry reached out to him. We also reached out to PTI CEO Venky Venkatesh, formerly associated with the Hindustan Times. He was busy with meetings.
The PTI management in its defence can state that a fair retrenchment package was worked out: each employee was given a salary of 30 days for the notice period. A compensation of 15 days salary per year of service rendered with PTI was deposited in their accounts. Besides this, the retrenched employees were also asked to initiate the process of withdrawal of the Gratuity Fund and Provident Funds.
In its retrenchment letter, PTI said the employees are being removed “with immediate effect as there is no work for your post.”
A thorough look of the list indicates that all of these retrenched employees were non-journalists—and they were largely from three departments: Transmission, IT department, and Attendee and Messenger.
“Not even single leader from the Federation of PTI Employees was informed about the decision,” said Sujata Mathur, General Secretary of PTI Workers Union Northern Region. She pointed out that even the General Secretary of the Federation, which represents all PTI employees, was not kept in the loop about this.
Mathur, who is also the editor of PTI’s Hindi agency—Bhasha—is set to retire in a few months. Several leaders of the PTI Unions and Federation, belonging to the three departments where retrenchment was carried out, were left untouched. When asked what could be the possible reason behind such an action, Mathur said: “By retaining those leading the Federation and unions, the management is playing with the minds of those retrenched.” She added that the management wants to divide the workers and create a feeling of distrust among them.
On Monday, the majority of retrenched employees, along with union leaders and activists, assembled at the PTI building and staged a dharna. Federation leaders declared that they would file a case against PTI’s management and seek a stay on the “illegal and arbitrary” retrenchment carried out. A majority of those sacked by the news agency are those who have given over two decades of their lives to the organisation.
For those like Rekha Charlie, the letter signed by MR Mishra, was a “shock” that derailed their life. Charlie, who joined the PTI in 1987, used to work in the Administration Department. She had 10 years of employment left with her. “My youngest child is 12 years old, whose entire education plans have now been derailed. I have to marry my daughters in the coming years,” she said. “The announcement has left me sleepless and I am unable to understand what I will do at this age.”
SL Das, yet another employee who had given three decades to PTI and worked with its publication department, blames CEO Venkatesh for the “anti-employee” changes being “bulldozed”. Das said, “Last year, they stopped the ex-gratia bonuses for Diwali and this time employees have been retrenched months before Diwali.”
PTI has clearly stated in the retrenchment letters that these employees were removed since there was “no work” for them. For instance, the transmission department employees had to send agency copies to PTI subscribers through teleprinters. However, technological advancements have brought major changes to these operations; the copies are now sent through PTI’s software over the internet. JS Rawat, who was with the transmission department since 1983 and has been retrenched, said their job profiles were diversified by the management. “While we continued to do our transmission job for upcountry (overseas) centres, we were also looking into the impact department—a job which is semi-journalistic in nature,” he said. According to him, the transmission department workers were now also looking at which PTI copies were being carried by subscribers and why, and if a certain story was not picked up, they looked into why subscribers preferred a rival agency’s copy.
Federation of PTI Employees Union has termed the retrenchment of nearly 60 per cent of PTI’s employees as “illegal and arbitrary.” Balram Dahiya, Regional Manager, said that 297 of total 530 employees under the Majithia Wage Board were removed by the management. “The Industrial Tribunal Act clause says last come, first go,” he said. “That means that in times of retrenchment the oldest employees will be the last one to be removed. But in this case, they handpicked the employees in an arbitrary fashion, and have sacked seniors and retained comparatively younger employees.” Dahiya, 53, is a regional manager and has not been sacked. He said, in a way, the Transmission Department has been completely done away with. He too disputed the PTI management’s claim that there was no work left for these employees. He said the management kept the Federation in the dark so that they don’t begin an agitation before the implementation of the order.
The retrenchment says the notice of the seniority list was put up on the notice board on 21 September 2018. However, Rawat, treasurer of the PTI Federation, disputes this. He said the “date of notice on the (retrenchment) letter is wrong. No such notice was put or published before the retrenchments were formally announced on September 29.”
Importantly, Bhasha’s Editor Mathur sees the PTI management’s action as an attempt to weaken the unions of newspaper employees. “PTI Federation has led the fight for Majithia Wage Board from the front. While the PTI implemented the wage board recommendations and revised the salaries, a majority of newspapers are yet to do so,” Mathur said. She added that in 2017, PTI employees had asked then Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani to initiate the process under a new wage board as the last one came in 2008. “The minister had acknowledged our demands and had said that the government will look into it. The PTI management had immediately called our Federation leaders asking them not to do so as it would increase “the financial liabilities” for them. A new wage board would mean more trouble for not only PTI but all other big newspaper groups. The PTI trust has a representation of owners of legacy national and regional newspapers.
The PTI federation will start its legal battle from Wednesday, it will aim to get a stay on the retrenchment order. However, legal battles rarely bring any reprieve—the sackings and the legal battle at the Hindustan Times is a classic example where despite the employees winning the case, the reinstatement orders were not executed.