SC takes up 7th Wage Award case
By Nasir Iqbal
ISLAMABAD: A senior counsel representing newspaper employers has described the law under which the Seventh Wage Board Award was constituted and now under litigation as a monstrous law, like a bill of tender similar to ‘bhatta’ (extortion).
The assessment of such a complicated matter involving over 300 newspapers or periodicals and thousands of employees was left with the discretion of one individual – chairman of the wage board, usually a Supreme Court judge, who announces the award without providing appeal before any court, Advocate Abdul Hafeez Pirzada said on Tuesday.
He was arguing before a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Tariq Pervez and Justice Ghulam Rabbani that had taken up the appeals of a number of newspaper employers against the May 31, 2011, Sindh High Court (SHC) verdict which upheld the 7th Wage Board Award.
One of the petitions also challenges the vires of the Newspaper Employees (Condition of Service) Act 1973 under which the wage awards are constituted.
President of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) Pervez Shaukat, President of the All Pakistan Newspapers Employees Confederation (Apnec) Shafiuddin Ashraf and a large number of mediapersons were present inside the courtroom No.1 when the case was taken up.
“The entire law should go as not a single wage board has ever been implemented in letter and spirit,Â” Mr Pirzada pleaded, arguing that the 18th Amendment under which a number of institutions had been devolved to the provinces had created a complication in this regard.
The chief justice observed that the apex court was not confronted with the issue of the 18th Amendment and only confining itself to the constitutionality of the act (Newspaper Employees [Condition of Service] Act 1973) as it stood on the day when the wage award was announced in 2001.
“We cannot hold the entire act (Newspaper Employees [Condition of Service] Act 1973) as violative of the Constitution,” the chief justice reminded the counsel. He said it needed to be determined whether any statute failing to provide any right of appeal would amount to violating any fundamental rights.
Mr Pirzada explained that the act was violative of Articles 4 (right of individuals to be dealt with in accordance with law), 10-A (right to fair trial), 18 (freedom to trade, business or profession), 19 (freedom of speech), 24 (protection of property rights), 25 (equality of citizens) and 2-A as denying any appeal was against the tenets of Islam.
This law could not survive because it violated due process of law, it was not classifiable, discriminatory and unjustifiably inane and had no nexus with the working journalists, the counsel argued.
He said the implementation of the law in fact provided a weapon into the hands of the government to pick and choose, sometimes against the employers or sometimes against the journalists.
“Why the newspaper employees have been singled out and not the employees of the electronic media or of the radio have been included in the award,” the counsel asked.
This ‘pick and choose’ of only the newspaper employees in a field already occupied by other laws that provided protection to the workers was totally discriminatory, he said.
The law, he argued, was also violative of the present judicial system of right of access to justice, besides in this matter the legislature had completely abdicated its executive powers by delegating it to the chairman of the wage board as well as the Implementation Tribunal for the Newspaper Employees (ITNE).
The financial constraint imposed due to the law also affected the freedom of the press, he argued.
At least eight laws, he said, were already in existence to provide protection to newspaper employees, adding that less than 25 per cent of the entire newspaper industry were working journalists.
Three petitions were moved against the SHC judgment by All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Messers Independent Newspapers Corporation (Pvt) Limited, Messers Pakistan Heralds Publications, Messers Nadai Millat (Private) Limited, Messers Kawish Publications (Pvt) Limited, News Publication (Pvt) Limited, Messers J & S Enterprises (Pvt) Limited, Messers The Nation Publications (Pvt) Ltd, Messers Ibrat (Pvt) Ltd, Messers Emmay Zed’ Publications (Pvt) Limited, Messers Zamana Group of Publications, Pir Sufaid Shah Hamdard, Aghaz Publications (Pvt) Ltd and Marvi Publications.
During the proceedings the chief justice noted that since 2001, no increase in wages had been awarded under the law despite price hike.
“What is the harm in giving some raise,” the chief justice observed.