India: Labour code bills threaten press freedom

This statement was originally published on on 26 July 2019.

The National Democratic Alliance has introduced two labour codes that threaten journalism by abolishing the wage board and removing the Working Journalist Act. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) supports its affiliate the Indian Journalists Union (IJU) in challenging the repeal and urge members of the parliament to ensure that the provisions of the proposed bills are scrutinized minutely.

In two Labour Code Bills, one on Working Conditions and the other on Wages, introduced in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, July 23, the government proposed to repeal the Working Journalists and other Newspaper Employees (Conditions of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act of 1955, and the Working Journalist (Fixation of rates of wages) Act, 1958 along with 11 other labour laws.

The basic foundation for the Working Journalists was laid by the Press Commission in 1954 to set a standard for media workers, including on wages, working hours and night shift hours as the work in journalism cannot be measured as in other industries. Once the bills are repealed, there will be no protection for media workers.

According to its statement, IJU said that the government sought to equate ‘fourth estate’ with any other industry, but worse has brazenly favoured the corporate media barons who have persistently been demanding to abolish the Wage Board and do away with the Working Journalists Act. IJU also condemned the decision to proposed changes was taken without consulting with journalists trade unions in India.

We urge MPs, both opposition and ruling party, to ensure that the Labour Code Bills are referred to the concerned Parliamentary Standing Committee or a Joint Select Committee so that the provisions of the proposed bills are scrutinised minutely. At the same time, the IJU has cautioned the journalist fraternity across the country that it does not protest and garner support against the Government’s surreptitious move; it would be a death knell for independent media and the rights of journalists,” IJU said in its statement.

The IFJ said: “We condemn the attempt to destroy the labour law architecture for journalists of the country. We demand the proposed changes must be consulted with the journalists’ unions. The parliament should not pass the bills without considering the inputs from journalists. We also call on the authorities in the country to increase their efforts to protect media freedom and improve the welfare of journalists.”

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Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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