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Scuffle between FWICE and TV producers reaches court

MUMBAI: The fight for a 50 per cent hike in the wages of workers involved in the production of TV serials has reached a new height. With both parties—the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) and producers—not willing to budge from their stand, the latter has approached the Bombay High Court for help.

The producers approached the Bombay HC to get a stay order on the indefinite strike planned by the federation from 6 May. Accepting the case, the court has instructed the FWICE that they cannot stop the shooting of TV shows and cannot create any nuisance or obstructions in the shooting within 150 metres of the set.

Swastik Productions’ Rahul Tewary told TelevisionPost.com, “We approached the court as a back-up and we needed it. However, we will keep the discussions on and hope for a solution to emerge soon.”

The court has said that the FWICE may choose not to cooperate, but the workers who want to continue working cannot be stopped forcefully and the federation cannot take any disciplinary action against them either.

FWICE general secretary Dilip Pithva said, “The meeting we had with the producers for negotiations didn’t bear fruit so they approached the court. They didn’t even give us time to hire a lawyer, so we just went and represented ourselves. They didn’t get a stay and we can call for a strike. They have no choice now, so let’s hope for the best as it’s a long battle ahead.”

Hats Off Productions’ JD Majethia explained, “We offered them a certain hike. But they were adamant at 50 per cent so the producers moved court on the matter. The producers and broadcasters are taking legal advice and action on the issue.”

The trouble started a few days ago when the five-year memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the federation and producers expired. The federation drafted a new MoU demanding a 50 per cent hike for junior artists, spot boys, and middle- and lower-level workers on TV show sets.

Unwilling to accept this demand, the producers argued that every year the workers are given a hike of 5–7 per cent and that such a sudden hike in wages is highly unreasonable. When they refused to sign the new MoU, the FWICE decided to go on an indefinite strike from 6 May, which means that if the producers do not comply with the workers’ wage demands, they will bring the shoots of all television serials to a halt from the stated date.

Reminded of a similar strike announced in 2008, the broadcasters and producers immediately got together to initiate discussions to negotiate the hike. Although not very willing, the federation agreed to meet and negotiate too.

While the meeting yielded no positive outcome, the federation alleged that the producers were not willing to negotiate as they had already thought of taking legal action. The producers said that the FWICE was not willing to budge even one per cent from its demand of a 50 per cent hike.

Sunshine Productions’ Sudhir Sharma said, “Both the parties did not reach any conclusion and the status is still confusing. Although the situation is far from resolved, there are continuous interactions and discussions going on every day. We are negotiating on the percentage as it is practically impossible. The broadcasters are in touch on an hourly basis and we are consulting legal experts.”

Another producer on the condition of anonymity revealed that the federation started demanding for a 50 per cent hike across the 22 crafts. After some negotiations, the producers’ body was willing to offer them 10–12 per cent hike, whereupon it seemed the FWICE would settle for 12.5 or maximum 15 per cent. However, the federation took a complete U-turn, saying they would not negotiate for even 49 per cent.

FWICE’s Pithva has a different story to tell, though. According to him, while the federation was open to negotiations, the producers were very unyielding in their stance.

Tewary informed that the federation would come back with a revised percentage after its general council meeting.

“We hope good sense prevails. There has been an MoU all these years, but this increase has no logic. We are happy to look after their needs but a 50 per cent increase no one gets. Asking for such an increment and threatening to go on a strike is not the right approach. We thought they would come prepared with a mandate as everyone was there and we were ready to finalise it there, but that didn’t happen,” Tewary said.

A producer informed that the federation came back with a negotiated demand for a hike at 25 per cent. However, until today, there has been no resolution as the producers are not willing to agree beyond 12–15 per cent.

Although negotiations will continue, it is now a race against time for the producers. Even with a court order, the producers will have to wait and see how much influence the federation has on those workers who might come to work after 6 May. Thus, their aim will be to resolve the stalemate by 5 May.

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