The bloodbath in the media industry continues as Tamil Nadu’s Vikatan Publishers laid off 118 employees including photographers and reporters over the past couple of days.
According to Vinay*, an employee who received the call of termination on Friday, no reason was provided for the action by the company. “We all had a call with our teams on Wednesday. They had spoken about layoffs on that day. Except for the fact that this is not linked to the performance, we were not given any reason. Today, I got a call telling me that I have been laid off,” Vinay said. He also added that the Human Resources personnel also gave him time till June 30 to send his resignation email to the company. The company has used the word 'rightsizing' to the employees, a term which refers to restructuring of the organization.
A source said that 87 persons from Vikatan’s editorial division and the remaining from other sections like design, administrative staff, social media department etc have been asked to tender their resignations immediately by the company. Vikatan group owns some of the most popular media properties in the state like Junior Vikatan, Aval Vikatan, Chutti Vikatan and Ananda Vikatan. The group also owns a production company -- Vikatan Televistas -- which produces TV soaps and movies.
The official reason for the lay off is said to be loss of revenue due to suspension of activities like sales of books, magazines and holding of events. “Vikatan group conducts at least one mega event in a month, which is a major source for revenue. Due to the lockdown, even the production of serials were suspended,” the source said.
When TNM contacted Vikatan group for a comment, a HR Manager said that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in uncertainty by bringing production business, advertisement revenue to a grueling halt for the last two months. “It has forced us to close some of our regional offices, consolidate some of the business to stay relevant for the next year. After controlling all our other costs and trying to meet the means unfortunately we have been forced to take the decision of rightsizing our operations,” the manager said.
Adding that this is the hardest decision that Vikatan has taken in the recent past, the manager claimed that it has been taken in the interest of the long-term health of the organisation.
Vinay said that he and a few other laid off employees have been trying to get a response from the higher authorities, but in vain. “There is no proper communication about the reasons for this decision. In fact, we all have been working harder since the lockdown started and many of us have other issues and commitments to honour. It is all dependent on this salary,” he said. Vikatan had reportedly incorporated pay cuts for its employees from April, on the assurance that there will be no job cuts.
According to Rakesh*, an employee who is still working in Vikatan, the Human Resources department officials began to call employees since Thursday and have been telling them to send their resignation letter in exchange for a month’s salary. “In the call, the HR officer said that in case the financial situation of the company improves, the laid off staff will be called back and offered their jobs back,” he added.
Though Vikatan has over 300 staff members working across Tamil Nadu, Chennai region seems to have been the worst affected in terms of the number of staff laid off. Sources also stated that the list of staff who have been asked to resign covers people across pay grades. “There is no set pattern for this decision. Both senior and junior employees have been asked to resign. The HR is claiming that this decision is not performance based and that they need not worry about it etc. So the employees are pretty much left in the lurch as regards to opportunities in the market,” the source explained. The decision on the final list of employees to be sacked was reportedly taken after a meeting on May 20.
In protest against the company’s decision to lay off hundreds of mediapersons amid a pandemic, a few Vikatan awardees have announced that they would be returning their awards. Activist-Director Divya Bharathi and dialogue writer Magizhnan (of Kaala fame) have publicly announced that they will be returning their awards in protest against the layoffs.
The Free Speech Forum for Media Professions stood in protest in front of the Vikatan office in Chennai on Friday opposing the layoffs. The Network of Women in Media, India (TN chapter) has condemned the layoffs.
(*Names changed to protect identity)