PAKISTAN: Journalists have been deprived of minimum wage for 15 years due to court delays

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAG-002-2011
ISSUES: Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Rule of law,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that working journalists and newspapers employees of Pakistan have been denied an increase in minimum wages since 1996. Due to the ongoing litigation in the higher courts the owners of the media houses are enjoying the benefits of the delay in justice. The 7th wage board award, binding on the owners of media houses by the law, was announced in the year 2000 but since then the implementation has been delayed through the interventions and stays from the courts. The Sindh provincial high court has reserved its judgment since September 2010 and even after almost seven months could not announce the date when the decision will be communicated. 

During the period of more than ten years, since the announcement of the wage award, media houses have increased their advertising rates by more than five hundred percent. They are also running television channels and getting concessions in excise duty on paper, printing machines and electronic devices through their friendship with the military government and the generals. 

After a lapse of over 10 years, owners are still reluctant to increase the wages of journalists and other staff which has put an economic burden on newspaper employees. 

CASE NARRATIVE: 

The wage board award for the purpose of fixing rates of wages for newspapers employees has to be made by the federal government every five years under a judge of the higher courts (High Court or Supreme Court) with equal numbers of representatives from working journalists and owners of the newspapers. The first wage board award for working journalists was constituted in 1960 and awarded on December 31, 1960, it was also decided that after every five years the minimum wages would be decided. Because of the appeasement towards the owners of the media houses this was not properly implemented until 1973. After that it continued for after every five years and the wage board award was announced until 1994. The last wage board award, which was referred to as the seventh wage board award, was announced to be implemented from July 2000 which was duly notified in the official gazette of Government of Pakistan after it became a law and binding upon them.

Because of delay in the implementation of the seventh wage board award since year 2000 the working journalists and newspapers employees are also deprived of eighth and ninth wage board awards which are announced after every five years according to the law. It has been well established that the media is the fourth pillar of the state which can be run without full time and professional journalists and newspapers workers, that is to say, journalists.

But since then it has been pending in the courts the ultimate losers are the working journalists who were denied of their basic right of increase in their minimum wage and other fringe benefits. Salaries of the newspapers employees, including the journalists, which were fixed in July 1996 under the sixth wage board award, were never revised or increased. Whereas during, this period (from 1996 to 1997), the salaries of employees of government departments, the armed forces, security agencies and the private sector were increased from 400 to 500 percent.

When the seventh wage board award was announced the owners of the newspapers (now also running electronic channels) refused to accept it and started retrenching the employees. Because of the movement of the employees and journalists to implement the wage board awards the ministers from military government of Musharraf tried to implement it but media houses revealed their power and the military government had to bow down before them. The All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), the organization of owners of media houses, in the meanwhile, challenged the validity of the seventh wage board award in the Supreme Court of Pakistan under article 185 (3) of the constitution and also the vires of the Newspaper Employees (conditions of the service) Act 1973, claiming that the same was discriminatory law and meant for suppression of the freedom of press and putting undue economic stress upon the media.

This has been happening despite the passage of resolutions by the four provincial assemblies, the National Assembly and the Senate, asking the owners to implement the award. But media houses, who talk about the corruption, good governance, transparency and who always criticize the working of government and other departments do think that they are above the law and they are immune to laws of the land.

The irony is that, the Supreme court took four years to reach the conclusion that the petition of APNS does not fall under the ambit of article 185 (3) of the constitution. The court also asked the petitioner to move to a “competent court of jurisdiction” if so desired on the same issue. It is to be mentioned here that in those days the judiciary was a partner of the military government.

Taking advantage of this observation of the apex court the media owners challenged the validity of the 7thWage Board Award once again before the Islamabad High Court, which dismissed it on the same grounds. However, once again the APNS and some of the owners moved yet another writ petition before the Singh High Court against the 7th Wage Board Award and succeeded in getting restraint order without any service or knowledge to the representatives of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and affected newspaper employees. This restraint order is still operative providing leverage to media owners to escape from legal obligations of making payment of the wages and other accrual benefits of the 7th Wage Board award to their employees.

It is alleged by the newspapers employees and their bodies that strangely the higher judiciary also feels pleased to rush to the rescue of media owners.

In Sindh high court many benches were constituted one after the other which took another five years to hearing the case but none of them had announced the verdict. Later on Supreme Court was pursued who in August 2009 directed to decide the issue within 90 days but the direction was not complied by the Sindh high court. The process of changing the benches in the cases of newspapers employees was continued. On September 2010, the high court reserved the judgment but till this day court has not announced judgment after passing almost seven years which again gave the opportunity to owners of the media houses to deprive their workers of the benefits of the 7th Wage Board Award. The Newspapers employees and working journalists apprehend that if delays in the judgement continue then there are the chances that the bench, who has to announce the judgment, may be changed and court would take more time to decide.

This has been happening despite passage of resolutions by the four provincial assemblies, the National Assembly and the Senate, asking the owners to implement the award.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) says that the media owners have made 7th wage award a point of prestige for them and from their raw conduct, they have literally proved that no one on earth can compel them to bow before the law and Constitution. It seems that all state organs i.e. Parliament, Executive, Judiciary and their subordinate institutions are just small fry before the owners who have failed to enforce their writ.

The media owners are very successful in their mission and they call for accountability of each and every pillar of the state and attached organizations but think that they are above the law or if any government of state institution forces them to follow the law they would make use of the weaknesses in the system. They are shrewd enough that they raise hue and cry to malign anybody who may dare to ask them to pay lawful duties and to fulfill legal obligations. They raise the bogey of “attack” on freedom of press and they start hurling threats and intimidate officials.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: 

There was no law for wages of working journalists when Pakistan came into being. The working journalists raised this issue before the constituent Assembly of Pakistan through a resolution which was tabled in November 1953. The resolution inter alia stated that “the Assembly is of the opinion that the government of Pakistan should appoint a Committee to investigate the conditions of the national press of Pakistan with particular reference to the working conditions of the journalists and report to the government”. This resolution was carried by the Assembly and inconsequence thereof the government of Pakistan constituted a Press Commission with various terms of reference, including recommendation in rates of pay and working conditions of journalists.

One of the terms of reference of the Press commission was; to examine and make recommendation on the rates of pay and working conditions of the journalists. Mr. Justice Khurshid Zaman, Judge of the High Court headed the Commission.

In March 1959, the Commission submitted its detailed report / recommendations to the government and stressed upon formulation of a law to regulate the condition of service of working journalists and a wage board for fixation of the rates of wages of the working journalists.

Subsequently, the 1st Wage Board was constituted in 1960. The board consists of a Chairman eligible for the Judge of High Court and an unlimited number of the members selected by the government. But representation of the owners and newspapers employees was required to be equal.

The 1st wage board was constituted on 30th May 1960 with Mr Justice Sajjad Ahmed Jan, Judge of the High Court of the West Pakistan as its Chairman In this board, wages were fixed for the working journalists only.

On the 11th Sept 1973 the Federal government reconstituted the 2nd wage board and Mr. Justice (Retd) S.M.Shafi, was appointed its Chairman with four members.

The 3rd Wage Board was constituted on the 24th Jan 1979 and Mr. Justice (Retd) Muhammad Munir Faruqee, was appointed as its Chairman.

The 4th Wage Board was constituted on 4th Oct 1984 and Mr. Justice Mian Fazle Mehmood of Lahore High Court was appointed its Chairman.

The 5th Wage Board was set up on 20th July 1989 which was reconstituted on the 20th Dec. 1989 with Mr. Justice (Retd) Agha Ali Hyder of the Sindh High Court as Chairman and 14 members equally drawn from amongst the employers and the employees.

SUGGESTED ACTION: 
Please write to authorities to implement the seventh wage board award which is pending since 2000. Please urge them to follow the law and government should not bow down before the owners and audit the accounts of the media houses that refuse to pay the legal wages to the working journalists and employees. The government should also link the advertisements with payment of wages to journalist according to award.

The AHRC has also written letters separately to the UN special rapporteur on freedom of press.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear ___________, PAKISTAN: Journalists are deprived of their minimum wages since 15 years due to the court delays  Victims: The working journalists and employees of newspapers Alleged perpetrators: All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) Date of incident: 1st July 2000 Place of incident: Pakistan I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding non implementation of seventh wage board award and non increase in the basic wages and fringe benefits since July 2000. It is shocking for me that working journalists and newspapers employees are deprived of their basic rights in the form of no determination of the their minimum wages and other fringe benefits since year 2000 when the last wage board award was announced. It is very ironic that all the delays are done through the court process and provide unlimited benefits and opportunities to the owners of the media houses. In addition to my concerns the darkest aspect is that salaries of the newspapers employees, including the journalists, which were fixed in July 1996 under the sixth wage board award, were never been revised or increased. Whereas during, this period (from 1996 to 1997), the salaries of employees of government, armed forces, security agencies and private sector were increased from 400 to 500 percent. I am appalled that because of the delay in the implementation of the seventh wage board award since 2000 the working journalists and newspapers employees are also deprived of the eighth and ninth wage board awards which are to be announced after every five year according to the law. It has been well established that the media is the fourth pillar of the state and can be run without full time and professional journalists and newspapers workers. This has been happening despite the passage of resolutions by the four provincial assemblies, the National Assembly and the Senate, asking the owners to implement the award. But media houses, who talk about the corruption, good governance, transparency and always criticizing the working of government and other departments do think that they are above the law and they are immune to laws of the land. The irony is that, Supreme court took four years to reach the conclusion that the petition of APNS does not fall under the ambit of article 185 (3) of the constitution. The court also asked the petitioner to move "competent court of jurisdiction" if so desired on the same issue. It is to be mentioned here that in those days the judiciary was the partner with military government. Taking advantage of this observation of the apex court the media owners challenged the validity of the 7thWage Board Award once again before the Islamabad High Court, which dismissed the same on the same grounds. However, once again the APNS and some of the owners moved yet another writ petition before the Singh High Court against the 7th Wage Board Award and succeeded in getting restraint order without any service or knowledge to the representatives of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and affected newspaper employees. This restraint order is still operative providing leverage to media owners to escape from legal obligations of making payment of the wages and other accrual benefits of the 7th Wage Board award to their employees. It is very strange for me that the higher judiciary also feels pleased to rush to the rescue of the media owners. In Sindh high court many benches were constituted one after the other which took another five years to hearing the case but none of them had announced the verdict. Later on Supreme Court was pursued who in August 2009 directed to decide the issue within 90 days but the direction was not complied by the Sindh high court. The process of changing the benches in the cases of newspapers employees was continued. On September 2010, the high court reserved the judgment but till this day court has not announced judgment after almost seven years which again gave the opportunity to owners of the media houses to deprive their workers of the benefits of the 7th Wage Board Award. The Newspapers employees and working journalists apprehend that if delay in the judgement continues then there are chances that again the bench, who has to announce the judgment, may be changed and court would take more time to decide. I am depressed to know that the higher judiciary, for its restoration during the military government of Musharraf journalists have whole heartedly supported the movement, delaying the decision and in other words providing advantage to the media owners to not to implement the seventh wage board award and deprive the newspapers employees and working journalists. The courts which are suppose to implement the rule of law are now coming under pressure from the powerful institution then how the people of the country will expect justice from the judiciary. I urge you to announce the interim relief to the working journalists and newspapers employees forth with till the Sindh high court decides about the petitions filed by the APNS against the seventh wage board award. I also urge you to make a committee to audit the accounts of the media houses so that they should also contribute in the national development. The government should also link the advertisements with payment of wages to journalist according to award. I hope you will do your utmost efforts to help the journalists and newspapers employees for getting their basic rights in increase their salaries and fringe benefits. Yours sincerely, ---------------- PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:  1. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari President of Pakistan President's Secretariat Islamabad PAKISTAN Tel: +92 51 9204801/9214171 Fax: +92 51 9207458 Email: publicmail@president.gov.pk 2. Mr. Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani Prime Minister of Pakistan Prime Minister House Islamabad PAKISTAN Fax: + 92 51 9221596 E-mail: secretary@cabinet.gov.pk 3. Mr. Raza Rabbani Federal Minister for Human Rights Ministry of Human Rights Old US Aid building Ata Turk Avenue G-5, Islamabad PAKISTAN Fax: +92 51 9204108 Email: sarfaraz_yousuf@yahoo.com 4. Chief Justice of Sindh High Court High Court Building Saddar, Karachi Sindh Province PAKISTAN Fax: +92 21 9213220 E-mail: info@sindhhighcourt.gov.pk 5. Dr. Faqir Hussain Registrar Supreme Court of Pakistan Constitution Avenue, Islamabad PAKISTAN Fax: + 92 51 9213452 E-mail: mail@supremecourt.gov.pk Thank you. Urgent Appeals Programme Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)
Document Type : Urgent Appeal General
Document ID : AHRC-UAG-002-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Rule of law,