A memorandum issued by Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) on October 20 terminated the service of 177 news staff, 531 program staff and 41 from NCAC radio station, and other web desk staff citing a ‘budget deficit and no need of contractual human resource’ as its defence. PBC management argue the organization faces a budget deficit of PKR. 942.887 million (approx USD 5.8million) during the 2020-21 fiscal year, which doesn’t allow it to retain all contractual staff under present terms and condition. It follows a notice sent in July from PBC’s director of programmes, Khalida Nuzhat, to all station heads instructing them to send names and details of all contract employees. The letter warned of strict disciplinary action if station heads failed to comply with the instruction.
In response to the lay-off announcement, Radio Pakistan’s sacked contractors staged a mass sit-in in front of Pakistan’s Supreme Court on October 21 demanding restoration of their services. The protest received support from political parties includingPakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Nafisa Shah, Pakistani Muslim League (Nawaz) leader and former prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and former interior minister, Ahsan Iqbal. All visited the sit-in and gave assurances to raise the issue in the parliament.
Economic exploitation and wage theft of PBS’s contractual staff has been reported as an issue with cases of some contractual and daily wage employees not paid salaries for up to eight monthswhile permanent employer were regularly paid .
Media industry downsizing and economic challenges cited by some media owners has created a dire labour rights situation for many of Pakistan’s journalists and media workers in recent years. As a result, many journalists have faced illegal retrenchment, delayed wage payments, forced leave without pay and other sorts of economic harassment – a situation further escalated since the onset of Covid-19. The Jang and Geo Group terminated as least 3,000 media workers and journalists as part of ongoing “downsizing” since 2014.
The IFJ said:“This mass sacking from the national broadcaster is a disgrace in this time of pandemic and makes a mockery of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise to create 10 million jobs in the country at this time. The IFJ strongly condemns the economic harassment of Radio Pakistan contractors and demands their immediate reinstatement and for the broadcaster to begin discussion with journalist unions.”