Contract Employment and Collective Bargaining: Report of Kolkata Workshop

<font size="3">Contract Employment and Collective Bargaining in the Media Industry in India: </font><font size="3">Formulating a Strategic Approach</font>

Kolkata 7-9 August 2006

Report by Parul Sharma,  Co-ordinator, India (AINEF-BNEU)

Under the EU-India Building Paths to Equality in Journalism project, a series of activities were conducted in Kolkata at a three- day workshop on Contract Employment and Collective bargaining in the Media Industry in India: Formulating a Strategic Approach. This three-day seminar (7 - 9 August 2006) was organised by the International Federation of Journalists and BNEU-All India Newspapers Employees Federation with the financial support of the European Commission and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). The workshop included a two-day session focusing on contract employment of journalists in India and one-day session on collective bargaining. It brought together union members, non-union journalists, as well as representatives of FES, IFJ, BNEU, AINEF, and DJV in GERMANY.

The first two days were dedicated to contract work and set the stage for a stronger agenda for employment of workers’ rights. Besides skills for negotiating, collective bargaining and representation were developed as part of the programme.

The workshop also contributed to the definition of strategies for introducing core gender equality provisions in collective bargaining in India and helped opening the dialogue with Indian media employers on this specific aspect.

7 August 2006

Praveen Sinha, Senior Advisor, FES India, said that things were changing and journalists wanted recognition in exchange of responsibility. He emphasised that journalists were becoming increasingly aware and wanted to find out where their concerns were attached with regard to decency in work as well as code of ethics and exposure of capabilities.

According to Mr Sinha, in today’s world in the media industry, the emphasis should be on the twin responsibilities of journalists and journalists’ unions to mobilise contract workers. In the current period of liberalisation things have changed. Journalists have a major role to play and their role is also changing from print to electronic media. It is therefore important for journalists to be strong and to stand united. In order to organise young contract journalists, we have to explain to them what are the resources, programmes and policies and also services that they could benefit from the unions.

Madan Phadnis, President, AINEF said the project on gender equality was very important. Gender issues are not restricted to sex centred problems but also relate to the problems of equality and status of male and female, which also depends upon equality in employment. In this context concerns regarding female journalists in this country are very much linked to the question of contract. We should therefore work on this strategy together.

Throwing some light on the history of the newspaper industry he explained that for the past 15 years employees have been working as contract employees and even every permanent employee was also under the contract employment. Thus employment on contract was not something new. In fact everyone was working under ‘hire and fire’ situation whether it is a permanent or contract employee. He presented a background paper on employment of contract employees in the newspaper industry in India.

Asim Kumar Mitra, NUJ India added that in the present social-economic structure contract workers were not in a position to lose their jobs. They were not able to work freely, they were always influenced by the sole thought of the security of service which is solely dependent on the whims of the proprietor.

Ravinder Prasad, General Secretary, BNEU, said that their union was fighting for the cause. Deccan Herald has a good management for example where there is no contract system.

Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharya, Mayor of Kolkata and the former Advocate General of West Bengal said that journalists were feeling the heat most on this issue. The contract system gives total and absolute freedom to the employer to show the door to the employees. Sufficient legal avenues are not open to workers. The best way to make collective bargaining legally effective is to become a regular employee. He made some suggestions to fight against contract employment:

1) Become member of a union

2) As part of the process it must be ensured that the worker has to be in the job at least for three years.

3) Job security is necessary

4) No contract but only probation

5) Employment should be on a competitive basis

6) There should be a centralised service commission for working journalists.

7) Role of the government is also very important.

Mohammed Amen, trade unionist, former labour minister (State) and journalist, found the issue very relevant. He also emphasised the need to set up a service commission.

President of BNEU M.C.Narsimhan also expressed his concerns on contract works. However he expressed his doubts as to the enforcement of legislation by employers.

Michael Klehm, journalist and activist, DJV, Germany, expressed his views on freelancers in Germany. Through his power point presentation he not only raised crucial issues but also brought home some very interesting developments in Germany. For instance he said that in Germany, (1) the future is freelance work, (2) more and more journalists are selling their articles, (3) unemployment is on rise (4) collective agreements are expiring.

He also emphasised that his country is moving towards new and innovative organisation of labour system, which include digital communication services. Journalists are increasingly becoming news providers. But the question of economic insecurity will inevitably arise. Outsourcing means loosing control on manpower, education, content, exploitation, business etc.

To mobilise freelancers or contract workers, he suggested holding regular meetings within unions involving all workers, increase union communication on websites and developing journalists’ networks and trying to win the confidence of workers.

8 August 2006

M.C. Narasimhan focused on recruitment strategies in unions and media houses. He also presented the paper on collective bargaining. He however felt that the fall of membership was a global issue and that there was a need to increase membership to form solidarity to achieve collective bargaining.

A strategic approach was adopted by the participants to counter contract systems and provide journalists employed under contract with sustainable support.

9 August 2006

Michael Klehm, through his power point presentation, focused on DJV tasks on collective bargaining. With some best practice examples, he described how DJV helps and acts for the welfare of journalists, and shared information about services they provided for DJV members. Based on his experience and with the help of DJV modules he involved participants in a training negotiation session confronting union leaders and management.

Participants enacted role plays and tried to find ways to negotiate on the issues as to, how to maintain the gender balance at work place and in the union.

In conclusion, Pamela Moriniere, gender officer, IFJ, summarised the activities and thanked the participants. She called on AINEF to take initiative to form a gender council, implement the Delhi and Bangalore the action plans and adopt gender equality policies in the upcoming and final meeting in December.

List of Participants

Shekhar Somi, Nagpur Union of journalists

Dipak Saksena, Working Journalist Union of Bhopal

O.P. Hayaran, Working Journalists Union, Madhya Pradesh

P.B. Verma, NUJ

Asim Kumar Mitra, West Bengal union of journalists

Susanta Das, The Statesman Employees’ Union Kolkata

Goutam Das, Bartaman Employees Union

Mihir KR Chakrabarty, WNBEF,

Santanu Roy, Ananda Bazar Group of Publications’ Employees Union

Lokendra Bahuguna, WBNEF, Kolkata

Srikant Sahu, Orissa Union of Journalists (OUJ)

Swarnaprava Samantvay, OUJ

Chandseswarsar, Assam Tribune Employees’ Union

Pamela Morinière, IFJ

Parul Sharma, AINEF

Michael Klehm, DJV

Pravin Sinha, FES

Madan Phadnis, AINEF

M.L. Talwar, AINEF

Subodh Bose, AINEF

Rapti Ray, NUJ

Sangeeta Ghosh, NUJ

Santanu Roy, AINEF

Debasish Charraborty, AINEF

Soma, Manhesjee, AINEF

Bina Thakur, Kolkata

Santosh Kumar, AINEF

M.C. Narasimhan, BNEU

K. Ravindra Prasad, BNEU