Telugu TV channel Express TV locks out employees after allegedly not paying salaries for months.

Not paid for months no money to live Telugu journos cook outside channel office in protest
news Wednesday, April 12, 2017 - 19:10

Ramesh* stands outside a tall building, located on Road Number 44 in Hyderabad's Jubilee Hills area.

"It's been months since I received any money from them. Now, they have locked us out. I'm getting tired of this," he remarks, as he looks on, at a gathering in front of him. 

Ramesh is an employee of Express TV, a Telugu news channel, which has locked its doors, and has failed to pay its employees for several months.

On Wednesday, several former and present employees of the company, along with members of the Telangana Union of Working Journalists (TUWJ), took to the streets to cook food outside its premises, as a mark of protest. 

Employees allege that the company has not paid their salaries for months, and those who questioned the administration were fired.

Those who continued to work say that they were locked out of the office 10 days ago, with no intimation, and the company's administration was not willing to give them a fair deal. 

The channel now plays pre-recorded bulletins prepared by a third party on three hour loops. 

Timeline

It was in 2014, ahead of the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, that the channel was launched and promoted by Dr Jayaram Chigurupati, an industrialist, who was also its Managing Director.

Prior to launching Express TV, Jayaram was reportedly the founder of Zenotech Laboratories Limited and Co-Founder of Hemarus Industries Limited, both pharma based companies.

In an introductory video posted on the company's YouTube channel, Jayaram said that the idea of launching the channel, was to promote 'responsible journalism', so that the masses could relate to, and use the information that was being given to them.

Stating that it would adhere to all principles of journalism, Jayaram also said that 'Express TV is focused on developmental journalism.'

However, three years down the line, a different picture presents itself at the company's office.

"I have been here since the beginning in 2014. There was about six months of research and setting up, and the first group that was hired was really efficient. Soon after the channel started, they dropped these people, and changed the management," one employee narrates.

Until December 2015, the channel's TRP ratings began going up, and it found itself in the list of the top 10 Telugu news channels, out of the 20 odd channels based out of the state.

"The problems began in 2016. During April and May that year, the salaries were not paid at all. In June that year, we organised a protest against the management. However, they pacified us and assured us that they would pay up soon," says Sivaprasad, a former employee of the channel.

While the company paid them the salary for June, and the few months that followed, they assured the employees that they would pay the salaries for April and May in installments.

"Those installments never came. Those who had spoken up were fired. They were terminated without any prior notice. After a few months, even I was fired," Sivaprasad adds.

"We complained to the Labour Commission, and some officials had come to the office last year. However, they just spoke to the management and left, and didn't even hear out our grievances. It almost looked like they had been bought off," one employee says. 

Seeing the channel go downhill, several employees quit in 2016, but were allegedly not given their dues.

The employees filed criminal cases against the company.

In January this year, Jayaram was arrested by the Balanagar police, on charges of not paying these former employees their salary/compensation, as the few cheques that were given out, bounced.

The next day, he was questioned by officials of the Crime Investigation Department (CID), reportedly on a complaint of 'fraud' and 'cheating' of an amount of over Rs 100 crore. He was later granted conditional bail.

Since the beginning of 2017, employees say things got worse. 

"None of us were paid for February and March this year. Soon, April will also be over. In total, they have to pay up for five months, including the two months last year," says Nethaji Kodiyar, a reporter with the channel.

The employees also say that money was cut from their salary every month for three years for Provident Fund (PF), but the company did not even open an account to deposit the money. 

They also allege that the company took money for Employee State Insurance (ESI) cards, but none of them received these cards.

They also allege payments related to TDS were still pending.

"Even if we want to complain, we don't know whom to complain to, because the management keeps changing every 3 to 6 months," one employee claims.

For now, the employees have approached the TUWJ, who are trying mediate a deal between protesters and the management of the company.


TUWJ members say the company has assured they will pay up, but has not given anything concrete on record.

"How can we trust them? Let's say that they do clear our dues, and reopen the place, can they give us the guarantee that it won't happen again? Many of us need our monthly salaries on time to take care of our families and personal lives," an Express TV employee says.

The News Minute made repeated attempts to contact Jayaram, but did not get a response.

 

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