Friday, April 18, 2014

Labour Court rules aginst Zee News, orders reinstatement of a woman reporter

A labour court in Mumbai has ordered the reinstatement of a woman reporter of Zee News Ltd whose services were terminated because she got pregnant. GEETA SESHU reports for The Hoot.
In a major victory for the rights of women working in the media industry, a labour court in Mumbai has ordered the reinstatement of a woman reporter of Zee News Ltd whose services were terminated because she got pregnant! 
In an interim order, the Sixth Labour Court judge, Mr K B Wagh, said that she should be allowed to resume duty and paid her wages as before the termination, from the date of the order. Alternately, the company was ordered to deposit 50 per cent of the wages in court till the final disposal of the case. (The Hoot has a copy of the order). 
The journalist (name withheld on request), was working with Zee News as a reporter for two years from 2010. Trouble began when she intimated her senior about her imminent marriage in March 2012 and applied for leave. After much persuasion, she managed to get the leave approved. When she returned on duty on May 7, 2012, she was issued a show cause notice about her work but even this was withdrawn without any inquiry being held. 
In June 2012, she got pregnant and intimated the HR department of the company, as per its policy, on July 17, 2012. She was issued a letter on July 28, 2012 to undergo training but this was not held. A couple of days later, she received a letter dated July 1, 2012 that her annual performance appraisal was not up to the mark. Stressed by these events, she fell ill and fainted on August 3, 2012 and was hospitalised. Her leave application, along with medical records, was submitted the same day but on August 16, 2012, her leave application was disapproved. On August 19, 2012, she received an email that her services were terminated. 
According to her complaint, her performance appraisals were always good for the two years she worked in the company before intimating the latter about her marriage and pregnancy. The company, her complaint contended, wanted to avoid paying the statutory benefits under the Maternity Benefits Act and had terminated her services without any domestic enquiry, thus violating the provisions of the MRTU and PULP Act, 1971. 
Interestingly, it took a year for the court to determine the final termination date – whether it was the email dated August 19, 2012 or on August 20, 2012 when the company produced the termination order. The court contended the former was the termination date. Again, the judge suggested the two parties attempt to settle the matter but even this failed when the company offered to issue an experience certificate. 
In the interim order, the judge has upheld the contention that an unfair labour practice had taken place under the MRTU and PULP Act, 1971, and that requirements under Sec 25F of the Industrial Disputes Act (a month’s notice or wages for retrenchment) and Sec 12 of the Maternity Benefit Act had not been complied with. 
According to the advocate for the complainant, Vidya Iyengar, the case was a good illustration of the problems women face in the media industry. “Terminating a woman’s services a week after she informs the company that she is pregnant is a complete violation of the Maternity Benefits Act,” she said. 
The lawyer for Zee News, Tanmesh Shetty, told The Hoot that his was only an interim order and the company would definitely go for appeal. “The judge can’t provide any final relief at the interim stage. We are challenging it in the Industrial Court,” he said. 
Besides, the contention of the complainant that she was terminated because she became pregnant was wrong, he said. “There are so many women employees in Zee who get married, get pregnant and resume after family life. Why will Zee create trouble for one person? She was very callous in her duties and Zee was lenient with her”, he said. 
Iyengar, who said this was the first case in the media industry to successfully challenge termination on grounds of pregnancy, added that several companies give women employees arduous tasks to discourage them from working while they are pregnant or force them to quit. It was important to stop this practice, she felt.

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