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9th Wage board: NOAB urges govt to discuss before issuing gazette

  • Published at 02:32 am June 13th, 2019
Newspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh (NOAB)

The unrealistic ninth wage board for journalists will pose a great threat to the newspaper industry which is currently going through the toughest time ever, said a NOAB press release issued on Wednesday.

The Newspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh (NOAB) has urged the government to discuss the recommendations of the ninth wage board for journalists with the stakeholders, including newspaper owners to find a realistic and acceptable solution before issuing the gazette.

The unrealistic ninth wage board for journalists will pose a great threat to the newspaper industry which is currently going through the toughest time ever, said a NOAB press release issued on Wednesday.

“The chairman of the ninth wage board has submitted his recommendations to the Information Ministry after preparing it and a cabinet committee has been constituted to finalize the recommendation. The committee has also taken an initiative in this regard,” it said.

“It is to be mentioned that the 7th and the 8th wage boards for journalists were addressed unilaterally. In the 7th wage board in June 2008, salaries went up by close to 90%. In the 8th wage board it went up 75% in September 2013. This is why most newspapers could not implement the 8th wage board,” said the newspapers owners in the statement.

In such a situation, the 9th wage board has recommended an unrealistic proposal with an 85% wage hike, which is by no means possible at present, reads the statement.

“The Newspaper Owners’ Association of Bangladesh opined that the proposed hike is not realistic,” said the statement.

The number of printed newspapers in the whole world has decreased. In our country, the circulation has also shrunk by 8-15% it said, adding: “ Revenues from non-government advertisements have also decreased by around 20% and the same trend is also prevailing in 2019. Moreover newspapers have to compete with not only private television channels but also online news portals and social media.”

Government advertisement rates are very low. Moreover, the government owes Tk85 crore to 15 newspapers. Government advertisements are also declining by around 10% annually. Around 26% of landed cost including import duties and VAT on newsprint paper has to be paid. Newspapers are probably the only product where production cost is three times more than the selling price. Due to a decline in income from advertising, it has become almost impossible to run the business, it said.

“In these circumstances, the unrealistic recommendations of the ninth wage board will face us with ruin,” it mentioned.

It is to be mentioned that none of the 42 government announced industries pay salaries and other benefits as they do in the newspaper industry, said the NOAB release.

The rate of salary hikes in the last two wage boards was 165% while a 161% hike was proposed in the last two pay-scales of the government. In the garments sector it was 70%, which means salary hikes in the newspaper industry top that in other industries.

In the 8th wage board, the salary of the lowest grade (grade-6: peon, security guard, gardener) is around Tk20,231, whereas it is Tk15,350 in the government salary scale (grade 20). It means wage board salaries at this job level are around Tk5,000 more than for comparable government jobs. And beyond any doubt, the lowest salary grade at private organizations is not more than Tk10-12000, it mentioned.

“Under these circumstances, the salary for grade 6 in the 9th wage board has been recommended to be Tk35,670, which is completely impossible in the context of Bangladesh, it said.

According to the 8th wage board, a grade three reporter with a graduation or post graduation degree joins with a salary of Tk38,073. At present, a civil service cadre of grade nine joins with a salary of Tk35,600 and a university teacher starts at grade eight with Tk37,150. Which means a reporter gets Tk1,473 more than a first-class government officer. Without exception, a salary for an employee at the same level in a private organization is not more than Tk25-30 thousand on average.

Under these circumstances, it will not be possible for any newpaper to pay a reporter Tk67,112 as a joining salary, said the NOAB statement.

“It is the government who announces the wage board for journalists and the newspaper has to pay the salary of its employees by increasing its income, without any support or help from the government. In the present competitive market of digital media, any newspaper is not in a position to increase its income readily,” it mentioned.

“According to the data provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and Bangladesh Bank,  inflation since announcement of the 9th wage board is at around 36%. At this time, if only one increment is provided each year, the rate will be 28.80%. In reality, the salary hike is much more. Sometimes fat salaries have to be given to motivate subject matter experts and experienced staff,” it mentioned.

Therefore, NOAB thinks more than a 10-12% salary hike in the 9th wage board will not be feasible for owners, the press release mentioned.

Apart from that, the 9th Wage Board has some issues, perks, and benefits which cannot be implemented in the newspaper industry. These are:

  •    The newspaper wage board has six grades. The government’s national pay scale has 20 grades. Most of the private sector, including banks and insurance companies, have 18 to 22 grades. It has become difficult to run newspapers due to the limited number of grades in the newspaper wage board.
  •     Under Article 2(10) of the Bangladesh Labour Act, there is a clause for 1 gratuity for every year of service. Other industries do not have more than one per year. Many industries do not follow the Labour Act clauses. Therefore, a wage board clause for two gratuities every year creates an unrealistic financial burden.
  •    According to the Income Tax Ordinance 1984, taxes are to be paid by the income recipient. But newspaper employees are not required to pay income tax. The organization itself pays.
  •    In the 9th wage board, 65% of the basic salary was added as house rent. But according to section 33(a) of the Income Tax Ordinance 1984, 50% of the house rent is tax exempt.
  •    In the wage board, a 30-day recreational leave with pay every three years is the stated policy, but this provision is not there in any other government wage board.
  •    Moreover, there are some other facilities which are not realistic and none of the newspapers implement these facilities. This callous approach includes the responsibility for allowances, entertainment allowances, technical allowances, eye-sight risk allowances, chemical poisoning allowances, outfit, dress, and laundry service allowances which have to be axed from the wage board.
  •    Despite being an industry, newspapers have to pay a corporate tax of 35%
  •  Although the newspaper industry is in the list of VAT exemptions according to the Newspaper Industry VAT Act 1991 (Schedule-2), newspapers have to pay a 15% VAT.
  •  According to VAT Act 1991 (Section 53-Ka), newspapers have to pay a 4% TDS/AIT. Furthermore, a 5%TDS has to be paid for raw material imports adding up to 9%, but most newspapers hardly make a 9% profit.
  • Although NOAB members actively joined the 7th and 8th wage boards, their past experience was hardly good. In all wage boards, these points were mentioned and the recommendations were announced unilaterally without any discussion with newspaper owners, it said.

The NOAB was expecting that the 9th wage board would be finalized after discussion with owners, but the same thing happened again, said the NOAB release.

“In such circumstances, the industry may only survive by axing the number of employees and not paying according to the wage board,” it mentioned.

According to the information provided by the department of Film and Publications, of the 684 newspapers (346 in Dhaka and 338 in districts), a total of 158 (109 in Dhaka and 49 in districts), or around 23% of all newspapers in the country, have implemented the 8th wage board. 

“Although the reality is a bit different… the NOAB has found very few newspapers that have completely implemented the wage board,” it said.