GMA to Supreme Court: Talents not regular but independent contractors

MANILA, Philippines – After losing their case at the Court of Appeals (CA), GMA Network and its chief executive officer Felipe L. Gozon filed a case with the Supreme Court seeking to reverse the appellate court's decision declaring over 100 of its workers as regular employees.

In a case filed at the High Court on Monday, January 20, and shared with media on Wednesday, January 29, GMA argued it was exempt "to a certain extent" from the "basic precepts of labor and employment" as the broadcast industry was peculiar and unique.

"Wherefore, premises considered, it is prayed of this Honorable Court that the assailed decision promulgated on November 25, 2019 of the Honorable Court of Appeals be reversed and set aside and that the complaint for regularization filed by respondents against herein petitioners be dismissed...and respondents declared as not regular employees but independent contractors," GMA Network said.

Last November, the CA junked the motion for reconsideration filed by GMA and Gozon and upheld an earlier decision declaring 101 media workers of GMA Network as regular employees.

The CA said the petitioners did not present any new argument for the court to deliberate thus it found "no compelling reason" that warranted a modification "much less a reversal of the assailed decision" dated February 20, 2019.

What GMA wants. The broadcast giant argued the CA "gravely erred" when it affirmed the National Labor Relations Commission's (NLRC) decisions in 2015 and 2016, which declared and affirmed that the workers were regular employees.

GMA said the appellate court "mis-appreciated" "facts" on the employment of 101 media workers when it "failed to consider...the history and peculiarity of the broadcast industry." In requesting the SC overturn the CA's decision, the broadcast network accused the workers of pushing a "classic case of person who wants to have their cake and eat it too."

The network said that were the SC to declare workers regular employees, such "would not really be to champion the causes of labor" but would instead "derail" management rights and interests and "affect the balance and practice of the broadcast industry."

In applying the 4-way test in Article 280 of the Labor Code, GMA insisted it did not hire the respondents as its employees, did not pay their wages, did not have the power to dismiss "but may terminate" talent agreements pursuant to violations, and did not have control over workers' conduct.

Workers speak up. The 101 workers who have since organized themselves as the Talents Association of GMA or TAG, have long debunked GMA's claims.

Using the 4-way test cited in the Labor Code, the talents said, proved they were regular employees. The 4-way test quashes the power of any written agreement if a worker passes it.

First, TAG said workers applied for jobs, took examinations and employment tests and were later interviewed then hired following hiring processed for a regular job.

TAG also said workers maintained regular office hours and did not report to GMA offices "once a week" for "just a few hours" as the network claimed.

"The network is describing the process for outsourced production houses and it is a barefaced lie. We report to the office everyday, on the call time set by our respective programs, and stay for the duration of the production period until our program ends air," they said in a statement on Wednesday.

Second, TAG said workers were paid every 10th and 25th of the month, every month, similar to how GMA paid its regular employees, who received their wages every 15th and 30th of the month.

Third, TAG asserted GMA had the power to dismiss workers when 11 of the 101 workers were terminated due to breach of agreement, which the Labor Code provides among just causes on termination.

Fourth, TAG said workers answered to Executive Producers of News programs who were regular employees and thus represented the network. GMA, they said, would also issue memorandums when workers committed errors and were made to sign consent forms which indicated they read ethics and editorial manuals given to them.

Why this matters. The network called the workers “talents” whose contracts were continually renewed over a period, some as long as 10 years. TAG members said they have fought to be declared regular workers to not only push for their rights but for better labor conditions in the media industry.

"In describing the hundred of talent-petitioners who have dedicated years of their lives to the network, GMA Network said 'this is a classic case of a person who wants to have his cake and eat it too.' We will not stand idly by while the network reduces our fight for better labor treatment to a mere metaphor," the group said.

TAG said it welcomed the opportunity to present to the SC not only its case but also the "hard realities that also reflect the realities of many talents like us, in the media industry and outside." – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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