Senior photojournalist and United News of India (UNI) bureau head, T Kumar died by suicide in the newsroom on Sunday evening. As per sources, he was under financial and mental strain as he had a 60 months backlog of salary which brings into the spotlight the inequalities and pathetic working atmosphere of working journalists in the country.
Kumar had joined the UNI in 1986 and was the first photographer to become the head of the news agency in Tamil Nadu.
In a series of tweets, Vishwa Viswanaath of TNTV Tamil Oodagam alleged that UNI hasn’t been paying salaries to the employees for the last 60 months and the staff members are getting their monthly salary in installments but even that’s being delayed.
Vishwa further alleged that UNI is getting approximately Rs 6 lakhs revenue from Tamil Nadu Bureau, one of the best-paid states for its news agency service in Tamil Nadu.
An official statement from UNI All-India Employees Front stated that there is a backlog of 60 months of salaries, yet the management’s callous attitude toward the dire crisis of the employees is unchanged.
“This month itself, a decision has been taken to stop payment of Rs 10,000 against the pending statutory gratuity, pending salaries and other legal dues payable to former employees,” it further added.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, MK Stalin condoled Kumar’s death and ordered financial assistance of Rs 3 lakh to his family from a fund for the welfare of journalists.
In October 2021, UNI All-India Employees Front staged a protest in the form of a hunger strike demanding unpaid wages for 56 months, 5 days after the protest the UNI management called the employees front for three rounds of discussions which assured to pay the backlogs in due course. A joint statement issued by Uni Management and UNI All-India Employees Front stated that the management team headed by Ajay Kumar Kaul, Editor-in-Chief, accepted the backlog of 56 months’ salary, which is a legacy issue, representing a grave state of affairs.
Post the discussion, the UNI management has started disbursement of part-payment of salaries to the existing employees which is a sum of Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 10,000 for former employees. According to sources, even the partial payments were getting delayed which represents the sad state of affairs at the multilingual news agency in India.
Reportedly, the agency started facing grievous blow in October 2020, when Prasar Bharati, announced its decision to discontinue the services of UNI and Press Trust of India (PTI) which resulted in a huge loss on the revenue as Prasar Bharati subscription accounted for more than 45% UNI revenue. The backing out from subscription was reportedly because of a few stories published by the news agencies about the India-China dispute which miffed the Narendra Modi led government.