The Bombay High court passed an interim order in favour of a woman broadcast journalist on September 7, who was allegedly terminated by Zee News Ltd for being pregnant. The court upheld the order of the Labour Court and Industrial Court to reinstate the journalist, or deposit 50% of her wages every month with the court till the matter is ruled on.
The Labour Court held that services of the Respondent No.1 could not have been terminated in view of the provisions of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, so also her termination was in violation of Section 28F of the Industrial Disputes Act.
— Bombay High Court
The journalist, Priya (name changed), was terminated over an email on August 19, 2012 – just a month after she told her Bureau Chief and HR about her pregnancy. Priya was a reporter and covered entertainment news. She gained weight during the early stages of her pregnancy. Since she also anchored for Zee News, her immediate boss asked her to go off screen and focus only on reporting. Priya agreed, but soon on-field reporting took a toll on her health, and she requested to be shifted to desk work. Instead of complying with her request, the company terminated her employment.
The Bombay High Court in its judgement also pointed out the need to strengthen the Maternity Benefit Act 1961, due to a growing population of working women.
Strict implementation of the Act, which ensures healthy and stress-free environment for a working woman cannot be emphasized enough. Arbitrary termination of service during the maternity period, such as the present one, not only affects the concerned woman employee, but creates a sense of despair and disillusionment amongst working women in general.
— Bombay High Court
The interim order has given a major sense of assurance to working women, especially lady journalists.
This is the first judgement in favour of electronic media employees. It is just an interim order, but if it is not challenged in the Supreme Court, then the matter will go back to the Labour Court where it will be heard on merits.
— Jane Cox, Priya’s Lawyer
According to the Zee News Lawyer, the channel is now likely to appeal in the Supreme Court against the Bombay High Court interim order.
It’s just an interim order by the Bombay High Court. The merits of the case is yet to be heard in the Labour Court. As soon as I get instructions from my client (Zee News), I will file the matter in the Supreme Court.
— Thamnesh Shetty, Lawyer, Zee News
Priya’s close friends say she has spent over Rs 1 lakh in this legal battle. If the TV news channel challenges the Bombay High Court’s order, the couple will have to take a loan to meet legal expenses. Priya has not been able to pick up another job since August 2012. She and her family have moved to a small apartment to save money.
Recently, employees of the government-run Doordarshan News moved the Central Administrative Tribunal, after they were allegedly sacked with no proper reasons being cited. The Court stayed Prasar Bharti’s decision, giving temporary relief to the DD News journalists. The matter is still pending in court.
It’s ironic that journalists who wield their pens and cameras for the rights of people, struggle to defend their own rights. As per law, only print media journalists are covered by the Working Journalists Act. Broadcast media employees do not have a separate legislation governing their working rights. Clearly it’s time to amend the outdated law.
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