Wage Board Award unconstitutional, APNS tells Supreme Court
By Mohammad Kamran
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was told by the counsel of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society that the 7th Wage Board Award for newspaper employees and the Newspapers Employees (Condition of Service) Act of 1973 violates constitutional and fundamental rights and is discriminatory.
As such, a petition filed to challenge the act is maintainable for regular hearing, added the counsel on Monday.
The bench, comprised of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Sardar Muhammad Raza Khan and Justice Falak Sher, adjourned the matter without deciding about the maintainability of the petition despite day-long arguments by the petitioner’s counsel senior advocate Abdul Hafeez Pirzada.
Justice Chaudhry asked Mr Pirzada to prove that this petition affected the entire nation and the fundamental rights of people. “We have some reservations about the maintainability of this petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution,” he said.
Mr Pirzada cited many cases, including the Javed Jabbar case and the Murree Brewery case wherein the petitions were admitted by the apex court despite the fact that they related to only one section of society.
Justice Chaudhry cited the Electoral Symbol Case in which the entire nation was involved in the electoral process, but the court did not entertain the petition. Similarly the Watan Party case against the Legal Framework Order of 2002 was rendered non-maintainable because the mover of the petition had no locus standi.
However Mr Pirzada said he would prove that the Wage Board Award and the Newspapers Employees Act of 1973 is a matter of public importance and affects fundamental rights.
He said the newspaper industry is the only one subject to a government-regulated act. This law is a ‘sword of Domacles’ hanging over newspaper employers and thus it is against the independence of the press, he said. “We are living in a regime of privatisation, anti-nationalisation, deregulation, open trade and free corporate policies. In this context, the Wage Award for a single industry is tantamount to subjugating the industry,” said Mr Pirzada.
“There are 256 different newspapers, periodicals and magazines that appear in the country and about 19,000 employees are associated with these organisations. The implementation of the Wage Board Award will cost newspaper owners a consolidated additional burden of Rs 2 billion,” he submitted.
With this serious implication, owners can not implement this award in its true letter and spirit, he said. He added that the 117 percent to 190 percent increase in wages was ordered under the Wage Award, something that is not feasible.
Many papers, including The Muslim, Taameer, Kohistan, Pakistan Times and Maghrabi Pakistan, had to shut down because of financial problems, he said.
Justice Sher suggested that employers pass on the additional financial burden to consumers, but Mr Pirzada argued that the product is a daily newspaper, something no one can afford to buy for Rs 100.
He added that the award does not discriminate among journalists and non-journalists. In 1960, when the Wage Board was constituted, it affected only journalists. In 1973, every employee was included. A peon in the newspaper industry gets four times more salary then peons in other industries. Under the Newspaper Employees Act of 1973, powers regarding the fixation of wages have been concentrated into hands of a single individual, the chairman of the board.
The Wage Award is rendered by the chairman and not by the board because board members have an advisory status.
“The award given by the chairman is final and no appeal can be filed against it. It cannot be challenged even in the Supreme Court, except under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.
Mr Pirzada said to former minister for Information Nisar Memon and minister for Labour and Manpower Awais Ghani have conceded that the law does not envisage any remedy. “The government has conceded that the law is discriminatory.”
Mr Pirzada was giving arguments when the court’s time ended. The hearing was adjourned. Justice Chaudhry said he would ask the chief justice to constitute the bench again to resume hearing of the case. Lawyers of the respondents, (newspaper employees) Akram Shaikh, Raja Akram and others, were present in the courtroom. They will be given time for a defence at the next hearing date.