The fate of 146 employees working with Cauvery News in Tamil Nadu hangs in the balance after the management declared that they are closing down the television channel. The employees have been promised one month's salary and were asked to start looking for other employment opportunities. The information came as a complete shock to journalists, who are now planning to hold further talks with the management to arrive at a better monetary settlement.
The meeting with the employees was held by Managing Director Ilangovan on August 8. Cauvery news which has its main office at Guindy in Chennai, is owned by Cauvery Power, a captive power plant in Chennai. According to sources present at the discussion, Ilangovan cited lack of funds as a reason for the sudden decision. The management claimed that they were looking for investors to help meet the company's current needs but that till then they would have to stop production. Ilangovan, according to journalists present there, stated that if even if they found an investor or a buyer, there was no certainty that current employees would be retained.
When TNM contacted the management, a source confirmed that the meeting had indeed taken place.
"There is a financial crisis, so we are having a small team in place. We just have the 8-member digital team and we don't need the others. We have promised one month's salary. We have told employees to start looking for other jobs," said a member of the management, on the condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, employees are considering uniting to demand better compensation, given the current freeze on hiring in media houses.
"If they knew that finances were in bad condition, why did they continue hiring people till three months back?" asks Neha*, 30-year-old employee from Cauvery news. "There was a fresh wave of hiring and several people came here instead of going more stable channels. And right now, they are not even letting us into the office. Only the digital team is working," she adds.
Multiple employees tell TNM that a compensation of one month is barely enough till they find their next job.
34-year-old Kumar*, an employee, says that this is the second time in two years that he has had to change jobs. He was retrenched from his first job from a national channel and now from Cauvery News.
"It is impossible to find another job in just a month. I am married and have a toddler to support. It will take at least three to six months for all of us to find employment again," he explains.
Employees at the channel told TNM that while they received letters at the time of joining, no contract with details of severance upon termination of employment were given.
A group of 15 employees is now planning to rally others and hold a meeting with the Managing Director.
"We need to be able to tide over this period. It is impossible to find other employment in such short notice," says Neha.
In India, the Newspaper Employees (Condition of Service) and Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1955, defines a working journalist as “ a person whose principal avocation is that of a journalist and who is employed as such, either whole-time or part-time, in, or in relation to, one or more newspaper establishments), and includes an editor, a leader-writer, news editor, sub-editor, feature-writer, copy-tepter, reporter, correspondent, cartoonist, news-photographer and proofreader.” There is no law in India that includes TV and/or digital journalists.
Legal experts meanwhile believe that the matter can be taken to court.
"This is illegal termination under the Industrial disputes act. When there are over 100 employees, they have to obtain permission from the government before the retrenchment or it is not valid. Further a notice of three months has to be given," says Karl Marx, a high court advocate.
(*Names changed on request)