The Press Trust of India (PTI), the largest news agency in India, laid off 297 staff across the country on 29th September. The management of PTI has justified this move, saying that the workers who have been terminated – transmission supervisors, engineers, assistants and attenders – have become redundant and that keeping them in employment was no longer “financially viable”.
The termination of the employees was carried out in a cold-blooded, calculated manner. It has been reported that termination letters were went to the employees’ homes. Copies of the termination letters were placed at the individual employees’ work stations. PTI claims that dues have been directly transferred to individual bank accounts.
The Press Trust of India is regarded as India’s top news agency. It is run by an elected board of directors consisting of the country's top media house owners. PTI, incorporated in 1947, is a non-profit cooperative of more than 500 newspapers. It employs nearly 1,000 journalists and claims to cover more than 90 per cent of the news agency market in India. The decision to terminate these employees is reported to have been announced immediately after a new Chairman took charge of the PTI board.
Media workers all over the country have held protest actions and issued statements, condemning the termination of the PTI employees. The PTI employees union and other journalists’ organisations held a day-long dharna on 1st October, in front of PTI centres across the country, including the headquarters on Parliament Street in Delhi, protesting the mass retrenchment. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the National Union of Journalists (India) and the Indian Journalist Union (IJU) have condemned the termination of the PTI employees as “anti-labour and anti-media”. They have demanded that the retrenchment be withdrawn with immediate effect and called for a thorough investigation into the mass sacking. They have demanded initiation of dialogue by the management with the PTI staff and their union.
A statement issued by the IJU said: “The way the management retrenched the employees by issuing a notice with ‘immediate effect’ and placing the retrenchment letters on the desk of the employees or putting them on the website was unethical, unheard of and smacked of sinister design. The IJU leadership was equally concerned that the management particularly laid off permanent employees under the Wage Board to not only weaken trade union movement in the media but perhaps to replace employees with contractual jobs so as to have a free hand to ‘hire and fire’ employees and give a go by to job security as provided under the law.”
The termination of the PTI employees is the latest in a series of such attacks on the livelihood of media workers. For the past two years the Indian media houses have been carrying out massive retrenchment of journalists. More than 2000 journalists have lost their jobs in big media houses like Hindustan Times, NDTV and The Telegraph (Ananda Bazar Patrika).