Television

Madras HC gives relief to New Generation Media employees

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MUMBAI: 29 employees - including both journalists and non-journalists - of the SRM group's New Generation Media Corp - which runs the successful Tamil news channel Puthiya Thalaimurai and recently launched GEC Pudhu Yugam - have got a lifeline with the Madras High Court admitting a petition and issuing an ad interim injunction against the former from cutting or restructuring their salaries or terminating their employment. The order was passed by Justice KBK Vasuki on 30 December 2013.

The company had hired the employees for its proposed English channel, the launch of which it had aborted, following "financial difficulties." In a letter dated 26 December it had indicated that they could stay on with a 50 per cent pay cut and work with the group's website or opt out by taking up a three month gross salary severance package.The employees had then approached the Madras High Court for relief.

The SRM group's New Media Generation Corp CEO RBU Shyam Kumar had in October 2012 announced that it would launch an English news channel in 2013. It went ahead and hired 50 employees for the same over the next few months. But in August 2013 the company's editorial head S. Srinivasan announced that there would be a delay, following which around 10 staff departed. Later in end November 2013, he, according to media reports, announced that the management had dropped the idea of the English news channel totally. And in early December 2013, once again according to media reports, Shyam Kumar verbally indicated to the 40-odd employees nationally that the group had failed to secure a loan for the news channel and hence plans for the same had been jettisoned. He also made a salary restructuring or severance package offer. An official letter disclosing the terms was sent to them on 26 December, following which the employees approached the Madras High Court.

Their contention was that the decision to close the channel without seeking government permission was illegal and void, contrary to Section 25-O of the Industrial Disputes Act. Section 25-O of the act states that: "An employer who intends to close down an undertaking of an industrial establishment shall, in the prescribed manner, apply to the appropriate Government for prior permission 90 days before the intended closure is to become effective, stating the reasons for the intended closure. A copy of such application shall also be served on the representative of the workmen in the prescribed manner (Sub Sec. (1 ))."

The employees' petition also highlighted that the decision to cut salaries was illegal as per section 25-M of the Industrial Disputes Act. Hence, they had approached the court to restrain the channel from laying off employees or from cutting salaries. Section 25 M states that "No workman (other than a 'bad Ii' workman or a casual workman) whose name is borne on the muster rolls of an industrial establishment to which this Chapter V-B applies shall be laid off by employer except with the prior permission of the appropriate Government or such authority as may be specified by the Government by notification in official gazette (Sub.Sec.1)."

Advocate R. Vaigai who appeared for the petitioners in court told Business Standard yesterday that notices had also been issued to the company and the Government of Tamil Nadu, considering that labour is a State subject. As per the rules, a company cannot terminate a large number of employees, like in this case, without the prior permission of the State Government, she told the financial daily.

While the 40-odd (including the 29 who filed the petition) employees could well be celebrating as 2013 ends, New Media Generation management - which has won kudos for its Tamil news reportage and invested close to Rs 150-200 crore in its two channels - will have to do some serious thinking on how to see this current imbroglio through.

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