According to sources, the contract of as many as 8 employees across TNIE in Kerala, have not been renewed.

No reason to fire us Scribes speak out after TNIE refuses to renew contracts
news Media Monday, April 02, 2018 - 19:30

Thirty-six-year-old Rajeev* began his journalism career with The New Indian Express in Kerala many years ago. Naturally, it was a rude shock for him when he was told that the management will not renew his annual job contract this year. 

Rajeev was informed about this the beginning of March, with just three weeks left for his contract to expire. Two days after walking out of the office, Rajeev tells TNM that the management did not provide a reason for not renewing his contract. Rajeev is not alone, at least eight employees - including reporters and photographers - have been left jobless. While they admit that the management can decide whether to renew the contracts or not, they say that the manner in which they were asked to leave is unfair. 

"There is no record of them telling me that I won't be able to continue working there. My editor told me in person that the management won't renew my contract. That was it. There was no email, there was no phone call, nothing," Rajeev says. 

Saying that he had started his career and made progress in his professional life at TNIE, Rajeev says that every contract employee nervously waits until the company decides to renew or terminate their contract. However, what Rajeev and the others term as unfair is how little time they were given. All of them were informed only in the month of March, whereas some employees were informed as late as the last week of the month.

"I was told just two weeks ago. My appraisal was done and it was March already, so I had thought that I am not in the list of people who will be asked to step down. I didn't expect this at all. They should have told us in January or February, so that we could look out for another job. But there was no sign at all. I was not given time for an exit...time to land another job," he says.

Rajeev and many others whose contract was not renewed, resigned soon after they were informed, so that they wouldn't get the "terminated" tag.

While Rajeev wished to remain anonymous, CP Sajit, a journalist who used to work at Thrissur bureau of TNIE, was quite vocal about his opposition towards the management's "arbitrary" move. Taking to Facebook, the 36-year-old journalist wrote: 

"It was my last day at The New Indian Express. Thanks to the policy of the management, about seven or eight senior people too have to step down from the office with deep pain and anguish. They served the organisation for a long time now. All worked hard, but were asked to leave the office on short notice. No official notice was issued though, but a special message delivered by the resident editor that Editor is not interest to renew the contract. None have got another job...(sic)"

He added that the move by TNIE to not renew their contract comes even as Left parties in Kerala stage a protest against the Centre’s order to allow fixed-term employment across all sectors.  "As the CPM and other political party's will stage a protest in Kerala and across nation against the new policy of BJP, we are an example of how contract system can be a great danger to the employees. The management and their chamchas will decide the fate of workers (sic)," stated Sajit. 

Speaking to TNM, Sajit said that he was informed only in the first week of March that his contract will not be renewed. The "signs" had been visible since the past couple of months, he alleges. 

"The desk would call me up often and harass me, saying that I have missed a story. This, when we have done more stories than other papers. After all, management needs a reason, but I can say, these are not professional reasons at all. Like me, many senior employees have been pushed out. For us, the month of March is an anxious period. Every year, a few employees are shown the door and this year, I was one among them," Sajit says. 

In his 5 years with TNIE, he has worked at Coimbatore, Kozhikode, Kannur and Thrissur. 

Raising a complaint

39-year-old Sandeep* has been working with the newspaper as a photographer for the past 15 years. He was told that his contract will not be renewed on March 25. Having found himself suddenly without a job, Sandeep has chosen not to raise a complaint with the Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ), for the fear of it impacting his future job prospects. 

"A lot of us were told that we would be given promotional transfer but were shown the door. There are no records of them refusing to renew my contract. At this age, I don't want to approach anyone to complain about this. What's the use? After all everyone needs a job, don't they? I don't want it to cause issues for me later," Sandeep says. 

As far as Rajeev is concerned, he has refused to raise a complaint with KUWJ, saying that he does not want a union that has not even given membership for many senior journalists including him, to intervene in the matter. 

"Every contract employee lives in the fear of the possibility of the contract not being renewed. That's a reality. My contention is that the management should have given us more time," Rajeev says. 

However, Sajit's story is different. He says that although he complained to KUWJ, they maintained that there was nothing they could do, since the contract had expired naturally. While he was advised to approach the labour department, Sajit says that not many employees are willing to come out against the management. 

Nidhin Trithany, a journalist with Deccan Chronicle in Thrissur, wrote in solidarity with Sajit. 

"Congratulations dear Sajit for showing the courage to come out in open with this issue. What an irony is it that you will be receiving the award on April 13 for the best individual story in English daily for the coverage during state school youth festival held in January this year! Hope all the other journalists who have faced similar treatment would come out in open for a campaign. Requests Labour Department and all journalist unions including KUWJ to intervene in the matter and find a solution the issue Sajit has raised." 

The Deccan Chronicle too is facing issues with the company going through financial crunch and CBI cases against its proprietors.  Despite repeated attempts, TNM could not get a response from KUWJ. 

One TNIE employee however pointed out that hundreds of journalists working with the company had received hikes this year.

The employee said, "In the last few months, the company has invested in team building exercises - unheard of in most media houses. From having programmes such as Value Champions to Core Values, all employees attended these programmes and the results were also good."

Both the editorial and management of TNIE declined to comment.

(Two TNIE employees reached out to TNM after the story was published and their quotes reflecting their sentiments about the company have been added in the end).

 *Names changed on request

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