Many employees pointed out that even though Maran was India’s highest paid corporate executive, they were working for a pittance.

We are not slaves Surya TV employees go on strike ask boss Maran to pay more
news Media Matters Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 21:30

At the Sun TV Network Private Limited’s office in Kochi’s Kakkanad, around 120 employees have been on protest for the last five days. The employees belong to five channels owned by the television giant’s Malayalam network including - Kochu TV, Surya TV, Surya Comedy, Surya Music and Surya Movies.

The employees want Chairman of Sun TV Group Kalanithi Maran to address their long-pending issues regarding remuneration and increments.

From indiscriminate shifting of channel offices from Kochi to Chennai, to giving paltry annual hikes (Rs 20 to Rs 172), the employees of Sun Network have a sorry tale to narrate. 

“A driver employed with the network for the past 10 years earns around Rs 9,000 a month. Many people are forced to do other jobs, some work as painters during the weekend. Camera people here get paid Rs 10,000, while their counterparts in other channels get paid double that or more. Most of these people have been working for years, but get almost no increment,” says Sajailal Subramaniam, the Head of On Air Promotion.

The employees say that their indefinite strike disrupting work, would continue until their demands are met. There are 164 men staff and 14 women staff at the channel, and almost all except those at management level are part of the strike.

Speaking to TNM, Anoop Bhasi Achuthan, secretary of Kerala State Television Mastoor Sangh (backed by BMS), said that the Kalanithi Maran management has been treating the employees like "slaves."

"Around 65% of the employees at the Kochi office still earn less than Rs 12,000 a month. And many of these are employees who have been associated with the channel for 18 years, since its inception. And even this meager amount is not paid in full. They deduct some money, in some cases upto Rs 3000 in the name of Performance-Linked incentive (PL)," says Anoop, who works at the graphics department. 

Anoop says the management had been following the PL norm only for the past three years.  

Sajailal Subramaniam was one of the few managers who joined the protest and has now been transferred to the Hyderabad office. He has not been informed about his designation. “I have an ailing father to take care of. They know it, but I have been shunted out. It is a punishment,” he says.

Sajailal says the employees just want to speak to Maran once, but their mails to him have gone unanswered. “We are only asking what is due to us, not more. Someone has convinced Maran that there is ‘trade union’ related protest here. That is not true. We just want him to reach out to us and pay us what we deserve,” he says.

Many employees pointed out that this injustice was being meted out to them even as Maran remained to be India’s highest paid corporate executive for many years. According to Livemint, Kalanithi Maran and his wife Kaveri Kalanithi, promoters of Sun TV Network Ltd, took home a salary of Rs.122 crore (Rs.61 crore each) in the year ended 31 March, 2015.

Another employee Vineesh Nair, who works at the Promo department of the channel said, "Journalists report on tea plantation workers who are underpaid. But the funny part is that, other than one or two media houses, none of the others pay their employees well. We are all underpaid." 

Vineesh has been working with the channel for the past five years and says that he was hired for a considerably higher salary than his counterparts, who were much senior to him. 

"Technically, I do not face the issue of low salary. But on a daily basis, I see senior employees who still work for Rs 10,000 or less a month. This is unfair and our pleas have been falling on deaf years," Vineesh said.

It was in September last year that a massive protest against the management unfolded in the Kochi office. 

"At the time, we formed our union and demanded proper increment and uniformity in pay. Here, most employees are getting a pay hike of somewhere between Rs 20 and Rs 172 every year, can you beat that? Nowhere else in the world would such a thing happen. Also, a section of fairly new employees have been hired at Rs 40,000 a month, whereas the same department will have employees who have been working for half that salary for the past ten years. We ended our strike as the management promised to pay bonus, but they deducted this amount from the following month's salary," accused Bhasi. 

While a few of those protesting have been transferred to Chennai or Hyderabad, Sun Network management has failed to be present at many discussions with the Labour Commissioner allege employees.

While COO Praveen refused to comment, General Manager Shamnad told TNM that he was not the authority to speak on the issue. Vice President Saju Davis told TNM that since he was not the point person to speak to the media, someone from the administrative department will get in touch with us. (but no one did).

Not just Sun TV

Online news portal Naradanews that shut its English and Hindi websites a couple of months ago is also facing a protest from its employees. 

The former employees of the English website have now taken Editor-in-Chief Mathew Samuel to court, over unpaid salaries. 

In a Facebook post, Shamseer Mambra, a former employee of in New Delhi said that twenty former employees of the organisation including him haven't been paid their dues. 

"Out of the blue, we were asked to resign in March as the company decided to shut its Green Park office in New Delhi and along with it, the English and Hindi bureaus. Most of us realised the office had shut only when we reached for work in the third week of March. Since then, we are asking Mathew Samuel to pay us the due salary (from January to March). Some employees who resigned after December have also not been paid the due amount," Shamseer wrote. 

While Mathew Samuel defended himself that the Enforcement Directorate has ‘unofficially’ asked his bankers to suspend operation of his account following Narada sting on Mamata Banerjee’s TMC. However, he failed to furnish any proof to substantiate this. 

Former employees say Mathew has been incommunicado for the past few weeks and has blocked them on social media. Mathew, however, spoke to Outlook. Defending himself, Mathew said that he was in bed rest in Kerala following treatment and that the Enforcement Directorate has "unofficially asked his bankers to suspend operation of his account." This statement however, was refuted by an ED official who spoke to Outlook. 


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