‘We’d be bonded labour’: Why Republic staffers refused to sign a new contract and quit

At least 10 people have left Arnab Goswami’s network after refusing to sign a harsh contract they suspect was meant to prevent employees from joining Times Now Navbharat.

ByBasant Kumar
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‘We’d be bonded labour’: Why Republic staffers refused to sign a new contract and quit
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In 2019, when he was launching Republic Bharat, Arnab Goswami wanted to hire the anchor Sucherita Kukreti. But Kukreti's employer, India TV, stopped her, holding up her contract which stated that she could not join a rival media organisation. The dispute went to court, India TV lost and Kukreti joined Republic Bharat.

Two years on, Republic Media Network, which runs Republic TV in English and Republic Bharat in Hindi, is doing the same.

In late May, Republic sent all its employees a new contract. It lays down conditions so harsh that at least 10 employees quit rather than sign it. The new contract, which the staffers were told to sign immediately or have their salaries withheld, renders them “bonded labourers”, as a former Republic staffer put it.

“The management was so eager to have us sign the contract they sent it by courier to the employees working from home because of Covid. Many people were hesitant to sign because of its strange conditions. The people who did not sign had their salaries for May stopped. I found resigning to be the better option,” said a former Republic employee who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

At least nine of his former colleagues made the same choice. They include four people who ran the primetime broadcasts.

“We could sign the contract and become bonded labourers or leave. I decided to quit,” said another former Republic staffer who had been with Republic Bharat since its launch. “I didn’t have a job in hand, but the terms and conditions of the new contract were such that I couldn’t sign it.”

So, what exactly is it in the contract that compelled Republic employees to quit rather than sign it?

“The old contract was eight pages, the new one runs into 30 pages. I objected to three conditions mainly,” explained one of the former employees. “First, the notice period would be six months rather than the earlier 45 days to two months. Second, if I left Republic I couldn’t work with any rival TV channel or even a digital outlet for a year. Third, if I faced a police case because of my work I would have to bear all the legal expenses myself. This is absolutely unfair.”

Newslaundry examined the new contract and it does indeed lay down these conditions.

“Had I signed the contract and left afterwards, I would have been unable to work for a long time,” the former employee added. “Which company was going to wait six months for me to complete my notice period? And what about not joining another news outlet for 12 months? We are journalists. We can only work with a TV channel or a digital or print outlet.

But, as per the new contract, you cannot work even as a consultant with a rival outlet, forget being an employee. When they paid my salary for May, I quit the job without serving the notice period.”

Another journalist who quit Republic rather than sign the contract complained about the condition to pay their own legal costs.

“How many stories does a reporter cover of their own accord, especially on TV? They mostly do what the output editor tells them to. Many times, the reporter is even given the questions for their interview and the angle they must take,” he said. “It’s the managers who decide what news to run and what not to, we work like robots. Then why should we pay when there’s a complaint?”

So why was Republic in such a tearing hurry to tie employees down to the new contract?

They were not told, even though some of the staffers did question the management as to the reason. They suspect, however, that the reason was the impending launch of Times Now Navbharat, the Hindi news channel of the Times Group.

“Republic came up after poaching people from Times Now. And the management was worried the Times Group would now do the same to Republic, and they had in fact approached five-six people,” said another former Republic staffer who left without signing the new contract. “It was all unnecessary, though. Because as far as I know only one person went to Times Now. It just served to decimate the primetime team which was known for bringing in the TRPs.”

And that’s aside from the fact that the new contract is “extremely unethical”, the former staffer added. “This contract is similar to you getting into a boat and, once you are in the middle of the river, being told the fare has just been revised. I got into the boat after checking what I had in my pockets. Now you say you are increasing the fare. What if I don’t have enough money? This has brought infamy to the brand.”

Another aspect of the new contract that’s troubling Republic staffers is the new social media policy.

The old contract only required the employees on social media to make it clear they were posting on their own behalf “unless expressly requested to post on the company’s behalf”.

The new one makes posting on social media a tedious exercise.

Still, most of the Republic employees have signed the new contract, mainly because, a few of them told Newslaundry, they could not find any other job immediately.

Newslaundry sent a questionnaire about the contract and the resultant resignations to Republic editor Arnab Goswami and CEO Vikas Khanchandani. We’ll update this report if there is a response.

A version of this report was originally published on Newslaundry Hindi.

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