HT and ABP layoffs: Cult of profits leading to sackings, not demonetisation as organisations claim

Hindustan Times recently shut down a few of its branch offices and fired a large number of its employees. According to a press release, the combined layoffs in Hindustan Times and Anand Bazaar Patrika (ABP) group of publications in the past few weeks amount to over 1,000.

 HT and ABP layoffs: Cult of profits leading to sackings, not demonetisation as organisations claim

Hindustan Times and ABP have laid off a number of employees.

On Tuesday, more than 150 journalists and non-journalist employees of several newspapers and a news agency held hour-long demonstration before the Hindustan Times office in Mumbai, raising slogans against mass termination of media employees.

According to News Laundry, the business section of Hindustan Times will now be syndicated to HT Media's financial publication, Mint. "While the shutting of the business bureau has meant close to six people losing their jobs, there is uncertainty over the fate of about 40 journalists that make up the Kolkata bureau. HT Media is also closing its editions (and possibly bureau) in Ranchi, Bhopal and Indore.

Its operations in Allahabad, Varanasi and Kanpur will also be shelved from Monday onwards. The management, in an email, has explained this move on the back of HTinvesting into a 'Digital Future' and the 'creation of an ultra modern and hi-tech newsroom in Delhi'. It has also said that the group hopes to strengthen its prime editions in Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh and Lucknow," reported News Laundry.

According to a leaked internal letter, Hindustan Times is moving towards a "digital trajectory". Vineet Jain of the Times Group, a competition of HT Media tweeted in support of the paper and said:

Outlook reported that the entire photo department of ABP was wiped out and that the head office in Kolkata resembled a "moratorium".

At the demonstrations in Mumbai, media employees also waved placards that said 'Journalists-Media Workers unity Zindabad', 'Media barons: Honour SC order and Implement Majithia wage board' and 'Don't shoot the Messenger, Don't sack the Messenger'. Another demonstration will be held at the India Bulls Towers in front of the Hindustan Times office in Mumbai. These layoffs come in the backdrop of the failure of media managements to implement the Majithia wage award.

According to a press release, a memorandum has been submitted to Hindustan Times Chairperson, Shobana Bhartia condemning the "harassment" and "coercive action" taken against employees:

1. Your act has violated numerous provisions of the law, including Sec 16A of the Working Journalists Act. You are well aware that a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by the then Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam had on Feb 7, 2014 (ABP Pvt Ltd and Onr vs Union of India and Othrs), upheld the Constitutional validity of the Working Journalists Act, 1955, and the amendment Act, 1974, and rejected the contention of improper constitution of the Wage Boards, irregularity in the procedure adopted by the Majithia Wage Board and that Majithia Wage Boards had overlooked the relevant aspects and considered extraneous factors while drafting the recommendations.
2. Your establishment has collected, under Sec 20J, undertakings from your employees, both journalist and non-journalist newspaper employees, on a mass scale, that they do not want the Wage Board. In the Supreme Court, a contempt petition is pending against your establishment to determine whether these are obtained by force or really voluntary? Which sensible journalist will voluntarily accept a lower wage?
3. It is clear that you have decided to close down these editions in other to avoid the implementation of the Supreme Court order and the Majithia Wage Board award.
4. Your action led to untold misery and disrupted the lives of scores of employees, besides leading to the tragic and untimely death of a senior staffer of Hindustan Times -- soon after his illegal termination by the company. Your callousness and cynical apathy only shows how much you are only concerned with the maximisation of profits.
5. We do not accept your excuse that demonetisation has forced you to take this step because, although it is only a three month old process, you have evaded the process of implementation for more than three years.
The JAC demanded the restoration of editions with reinstatement of all employees and implement the Majithia Wage Board Award in toto, thereby maintaining the spirit and letter of the Supreme Court verdict in this regard.

Most media houses according to News Laundry have stated demonetisation as a cause for downsizing, The Hindu sent an email to its employees in December 2016 low advertising revenues caused due to demonetisation.

The website also reported that The Economic Times and The Times of India have frozen hiring.

However a commentary in the Economic and Political Weekly suggests that the downsizing was in play long before demonetisation — "The impact of the demonetisation on the volume of advertisements in The Times of India has not been particularly noticeable either. For instance, on 20 January, eight-and-a-half of the Mumbai edition’s first nine pages were filled with advertisements," says the report in EPW, arguing that demonetisation is not really to blame, instead it is the "structural factors, compounded by the cult of profit, that have led to layoffs in media houses."

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Updated Date: Feb 14, 2017 10:06:09 IST