On the afternoon of December 29, Kayalvizhi Krishnasamy sent a message on a WhatsApp group comprising employees of United News of India.
“Hi, I am Chennai’s UNI photographer Krishnasamy’s wife,” she wrote. “I want to sell my husband’s camera. Please help me sell it.”
It wasn’t the first time Kayalvizhi sent a message like this on her husband’s WhatsApp group, and it wouldn’t be the last. Krishnasamy, a photojournalist, died on October 16, 2022 from a heart attack. He left behind his wife, a 14-year-old son, and a 70-month salary backlog from UNI.
Kayalvizhi, her son Lokeshwaram, their relative P Govindraj, and the UNI Employees Front, a union, confirmed to Newslaundry that Krishnasamy hadn’t received his full salary for 70 months – nearly six years. They said the company’s “bad financial condition” was cited for non-payment.
Krishnasamy’s salary was Rs 45,720 as a senior photographer at the media house. The union said the backlog is “at least Rs 50 lakh” given that Krishnasamy had worked there for 24 years.
On its part, the UNI management has not denied there’s a backlog. But editor-in-chief Ajay Kaul said the family “got a lot of money”.
He said the family “may have received Rs 6-7 lakh through EDLI” – referring to the Employees Deposit Linked Insurance Scheme provided under the employees’ provident fund.
But Kayalvizhi said her family only received Rs 50,000 from UNI after Krishnasamy’s death, and that the EDLI amount has not been released yet.
“I will check,” Kaul said when asked by Newslaundry. “Right now, I am in a meeting.”
A litany of financial woes
Krishnasamy was the sole earning member of his family.
“He handled the A to Z of everything at home and outside,” Kayalvizhi, 45, told Newslaundry over the phone from Chennai. “Now after his death, I’m finding it tough to run the house. We were facing financial problems even before due to irregular payment of salary. My husband’s company was paying a salary once every five months. Now, after his death, things are extremely difficult.”
She continued, “I have started taking tuitions at home – I have 13 students each paying Rs 300-500. I pay for electricity and groceries with this money. My three older sisters are helping out. One helps pay the rent of Rs 8,000, another with household provisions, and the third with getting books and other school requirements for my son.”
Yet this isn’t enough, she said. Her son has been “called out publicly” multiple times by his school for not paying his annual school fees of Rs 60,000. Kayalvizhi is now worried he won’t be permitted to appear for his exams in April. She’s pawned all her jewellery and still owes the bank Rs 5 lakh. She’s also discontinued her son’s Hindi tuitions to pay their electricity bills and buy food.
“The fees would get delayed when my father was there, but not like this,” Lokeshwaram told Newslaundry. “Teachers usually ask me about the fees in the staffroom, but three times now they’ve angrily asked me in front of the entire class. I used to get one of the top three ranks in class, I was doing okay even after my father’s death, but now I am worried about the fees.”
This stress culminated in Kayalvizhi’s decision to sell Krishnasamy’s beloved Nikon camera.
“I didn’t have the desire to sell my husband’s camera but I’m not left with any option,” she said. “That’s the only valuable thing we are left with which can help pay my son’s school fees...I feel sad for him.”
‘Management doesn’t keep its promises’
In October 2021, UNI employees over non-payment of salaries for 56 months. At the time, the convenors of the UNI Employees Front alleged that the editor-in-chief was drawing a salary of Rs 2 lakh while 250 UNI employees were “asked to accept a paltry sum of Rs 15,000 against 56-month-old salary”.
In February last year, a UNI photojournalist T Kannan died by suicide in his Chennai newsroom after allegedly not receiving his salary for 60 months. After his death, editor-in-chief Ajay Kaul that employees hadn’t received a portion of their salaries but also said Kannan had not left a suicide note. “So how can the media arrive at a conclusion?” he said.
In Krishnasamy’s case, Kayalvizhi and the union said the family was paid Rs 50,000 after his death, but not the rest of what was due to him. The union issued a statement to this effect on November 29 too, saying the non-payment of full salaries began in March 2017.
Mahesh Rajput, general secretary of the UNI Employees Front, said Kayalvizhi had sent a message to the employee WhatsApp group in November and then again in December about selling Krishnasamy’s camera.
“We are trying to collect funds for the family but haven’t been successful yet, since we have been paid only four months’ salary in 2021 and 2022,” he alleged. “All of us have not received full salaries for 70 months. It is very sad that we still haven’t been able to help the family of our colleague.”
Salary delays began in 2006, Rajput said, initially for just a few days but soon stretching to months, even years.
“In 2010, we would get a backdated salary for six months. In 2017, the backlog was 36 months. Now, it’s 70 months, which is five years and 10 months,” he said.
In 2020, Prasar Bharati ended Doordarshan and All India Radio’s subscription to UNI. , there had been “no formal contract” with UNI since 2006 and the decision was taken to rationalise “expenditure on news agencies”.
“Prasar Bharati was our ventilator,” Rajput said. “Forty percent of our revenue – about Rs 6 crore – was from Prasar Bharati. So, in 2021, we received our first salary in January and our next salary in September. In 2022, we again received salary only twice.”
Rajput added that the management stopped giving backlog salaries to employees who have since retired, and that it doesn’t “keep its promises” about payments.
“They hired new people on salaries amounting to lakhs but they didn’t clear the backlog,” he said. “Krishnasamy’s family have not received the EDLI of Rs 7 lakh because the management did not pay the yearly premium towards it. Because of all this, his wife is struggling. She’s compelled to sell his camera. But management is least bothered.”
Krishnasamy’s cousin P Govindraj told Newslaundry he had sent all forms and documents related to EDLI to UNI’s office in Delhi two months ago. “They have not responded yet,” he said. “They should release the amount immediately.”
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