Fortune India has become the latest casualty of the economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus outbreak. On April 27, the magazine emailed all its 40 staffers asking them to take “voluntary” unpaid furlough for three months. The mail came with a “consent form” that the employees were asked to sign.
“Of course they included a ‘consent form’ in the email because without our consent they can’t let go of us,” said a staffer who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. “They would have to give us compensation otherwise.”
The staffer alleged that the management was forcing them to sign the form, threatening that “the company would be forced to shut the magazine right now” if they refused.
“This is some sort of ethical baggage the management is trying to put on our shoulders by saying that if we don’t sign it we will be responsible for the shutting down of the company,” the staffer added.
But most of the employees are reportedly holding out because it is “a bad deal” for them. “We are not going to get our salaries. They are not going to give us any sort of assurance for the future or any guarantee for today,” the staffer explained. “Then, why should we sign it?”
“So, basically if a legal battle arises in the future they can show the consent form in the courts and escape. That’s why I haven’t signed the form yet. It’s anyway more of a threat. This isn’t how consent works.”
Another employee, though, said he hadn’t yet been approached by the management to sign the consent form.
Fortune India is run by Business Media Private Limited, a venture between Fortune US and the ABP group. It was launched in 2010.
The magazine hasn’t been printed for the last two months; it was published only digitally.
“We couldn’t release two issues of the Fortune magazine and therefore the revenue is zero for two consecutive months. No one can forecast how long this will continue. An extension of the lockdown and its consequent impact on the overall economy will undoubtedly have an even more adverse impact on this magazine business,” said the email sent to the staffers by DD Purkayastha, the managing director of the APB group. “In this context, I would like to suggest you proceed on leave without pay for 3 months with effect from 1st May, 2020.”
The staffer, however, claimed there was more to it than that. “The company plans to sell the magazine,” she said. “They have been looking for a buyer for the last year and a half. But they didn’t have an excuse for it. The pandemic has given them an excuse.”
Newslaundry reached out to Purkayastha as well as Suman Banerjee, the head of human resources at Fortune India, for comment but didn’t get a response from either. This report will be updated if a response is received.
In recent weeks, several Big Media organisations, including the Hindu, Indian Express and Hindustan Times, have cut or deferred the wages of their staff. The Times Group, which runs the Times of India and the Economic Times, has not only reduced salaries but also fired some staff.
Though the print media seems the hardest hit by the pandemic, which has disrupted the distribution of newspapers, the digital and broadcast media are also struggling. Several TV channels and online news outlets, including NDTV, News Nation and the Quint, have either cut wages or laid off staff, or both, in recent weeks. All India Radio, the state broadcaster, ignored government advisories to put casual staff out of work.
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