Digital news website The Quint has asked about 45 employees to go on an indefinite leave without pay. They include reporters, one of whom recently won a prestigious journalism award, copy editors, a bureau chief, production staff, and the entire technology team. The decision was conveyed to them by their respective heads of department starting Sunday evening.
“Our total team strength is over 200. And about 45 employees have been asked to go on leave without pay,” a senior executive at The Quint told Newslaundry.
The affected employees will be paid half their salaries for the month of April. The unpaid leave will start from April 15.
An email to the affected employees by the media outlet’s HR department said The Quint had “robustly” dealt with “a grinding economic slowdown in India” over the last two years, but now the organisation faced “a truly unprecedented situation”.
Making note of the “double whammy” of the pandemic and the economic crisis, it said the website’s revenues “will be under severe strain over the next 3-4 months, at least”.
The email added the affected employees could avail cash assistance of a month’s salary and withdraw their Employee Provident Fund. Their medical insurance will remain active, and notably, the employees can freelance, even with “our direct competitors”.
These measures, the email said, “may constrain us all, but may also help us stay afloat at a time like this”.
“Please do understand that we are not happy to have made the above decision – but equally, please also remember that ‘hope’ is not a plan. We cannot just hope or wish for this crisis to abate. We have to act, so that together we can survive. It’s a challenge we simply have to take head on,” the email said.
This announcement by The Quint comes in the midst of a nationwide lockdown to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which has triggered an unprecedented economic slowdown across sectors. The media sector is struggling because of shrinking advertising revenue.
According to the sacked employees, The Quint discontinued its subscription to news agencies like the Press Trust of India, Indo-Asian News Service, and Asian News International last week.
The Quint is reportedly the first digital news website to feel the heat of the economic crisis in the media. National dailies like the Indian Express and the Business Standard also announced for employees earlier this month.
Affected employees at The Quint now worry about a future of financial uncertainty. They told Newslaundry that they are shocked and feel let down by their organisation.
“I have worked even during my leaves and checked my mail during holidays here. I work hard. I can tell you I was not able to sleep last night out of shock. I was not expecting this,” a staff member told Newslaundry.
The staffer added there had been a buzz about financial constraints at The Quint ever since the employees started working from home after March 24. “There was a communication 10 days ago that there might be pay cuts, but they changed their minds and went ahead with leave without pay,” the staffer said. “I think it is insensitive to inform an employee late at night that ‘well, we don’t need you here’ just three days before it comes into effect. It has not gone down with most of us.”
Another staff member said: “None of us are able to move during the lockdown. I still have to pay my rent and that’s a huge cost. They could have done this after the lockdown. It’s a bloodbath and they haven’t even told us whether they are going to take us back.”
Asked about the allegation by the employees that the decision was abrupt, the senior executive told Newslaundry, “Those going on LWP from April 15 will get their full April salaries, continuing medical coverage, and immediate provision of a month’s salary advance to take care of any exigencies.”
In another email later in the day, the management informed the affected employees that they would be paid for the entire month of April. The email said, “We understand your concern and as a response to your need we will be paying for the 15 additional days of LWP till the 30th of April for all those earning Rs 65,000 and below. In effect, you will be getting your full salary for April. This is in addition to an advance equal to upto one month’s salary, should you request it.”
Another email from the media outlet’s HR department — with the subject “extraordinary situation” — informed employees who have not been sent on leave that they may suffer a “salary reduction”. Those earning a monthly sum of Rs 50,000 or less, it said, “will be fully protected”.
The Quint was launched in early 2015 by Raghav Bahl and Ritu Kapur. They had quit Network18 group in mid-2014 after a takeover by the Independent Media Trust, a subsidiary of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd.
Sackings at Times of India
Times Life, a Sunday supplement produced by the Times of India, has asked at least three of its employees to leave. Two editors and a designer were verbally informed of their sacking and told to expect official communication from the HR department on April 14. The Life team had six editorial staffers and two designers.
“Our revenues were down and out since six or seven months,” said one of the employees who has been shown the door, “but the Covid-19 crisis was the final nail in the coffin.”
The staffer claimed that Life’s circulation was around a million. “We were told that the production of one-pager Life will now be done by Delhi Times and so they don’t need so many people. The HR head will be calling tomorrow and giving us an official notice period of a month. ‘That’s it, game over,’ these were the exact words from my editor,” the sacked staffer told Newslaundry.
The Life supplement is usually spread across four pages, but has been cut down to one page since the lockdown began on March 24. The Times of India describes Life as “a mélange of content ranging from fashion, technology, food to travel, celebrity relationships”, and a “glossy supplement to have a print order as high as that of The Times of India”.
Another sacked employee told Newslaundry that the decision was “inhuman” because of its timing. “They have merged Life with another product, so why couldn’t they retain us? I could have understood the decision if the whole board took a pay cut, and if it was still not working after three months, then you come to such a decision as the last resort. Right now, I don’t have an option to look for a job. And I’m not at the entry-level, so what do I do?” the sacked employee asked.
The Speaking Tree is a weekly column in the Times of India and the Economic Times. On Sunday, it’s published as a supplement called the Speaking Tree on Sunday. It used to be eight pages until earlier this year, when it was reduced to six. Its editor, Narayani Ganesh, told Newslaundry that the supplement has been reduced to a single page and integrated into the Sunday Times since the beginning of April.
Asked if any employee has been laid off, Ganesh said, “Not as yet”.
“I would imagine that if it’s just going to be one page, there will be some staff adjustment,” she added. “We were told that these decisions will be taken once the lockdown is over.”