Media workers win regularization case vs GMA-7

MANILA, Philippines – Current and former media workers protesting against GMA-7 secured yet another legal victory, as the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) ruled that they are regular employees of the network giant.

"Hence, substantial evidence... show that it was GMA which controlled complainants on the means, manner, procedures, and ways of accomplishing their jobs," read the 37-page decision dated September 30.

The document was received on Monday, October 5, by the Talents Association of GMA (TAG), whose members sued the network in May 2014 over what they considered unjust labor conditions. (READ: GMA-7 talents risk losing jobs over regularization plight)

GMA-7 had regarded the so-called talents as independent contractors, denying them law-mandated regularization benefits including bonuses as well as health and social insurance despite their years of exclusive service to the network.

The NLRC ruled that GMA-7's denial of employer-employee relationship with the talents is an "untenable position" and that no evidence was presented to back the claim that the talents are independent contractors and not regulars.

Network talents are the technical and creative runners behind television shows, pitching stories, writing scripts and spiels, producing audiovisual reports, shooting interviews, sourcing contacts and contributors, fact-checking stories, and finding case studies for stories, among others.

TAG President Christian Cabaluna said he is "very happy" over the "exhaustive" NLRC decision, which debunked arguments raised by GMA-7.

A total of 105 TAG members were declared regulars by the NLRC, with 8 of them already resigned from their GMA-7 jobs but would receive regularization benefits during their stay with the company.

The NLRC decision is appealeable within 10 days. The case may be elevated to the Court of Appeals (CA), and later on to the Supreme Court (SC) after it is resolved by the CA. 

Regino Moreno, counsel for GMA-7 in the case, had earlier said the network is ready and willing to "exhaust all options" including petitioning before the SC.

Rappler has asked GMA-7 to comment but has yet to receive a reply.  

'They needed a job'

The NLRC likewise found no merit in GMA-7's claim that the talents were on fixed term contracts with jobs tied to the existence of television shows.

The commission ruled that fixed term employment requires free choice from both parties entering into the agreement.

"There should have been no force, duress or improper pressure brought to bear upon the employee; neither should there be any other circumstance that vitiates the employee's consent."

"Understandably, complainants could not object to terms of their contracts because initially, they needed a job to support themselves and/or their families, and subsequently, they did not want to lose their jobs," the decision read. 

Many of the talents interviewed by Rappler had said they endured their jobs for decades despite the "unjust conditions" due to their passion for media work and the need to sustain their families. (READ: GMA-7: Talents 'vital' to network success)

The talent system has long been practiced across networks, with many media workers not receiving law-mandated benefits amid their heavy workload.

 

LEADER. Talents Association of GMA (TAG) President Christian Cabaluna tells the crowd that TAG is not against GMA-7 per se but against the present talent system, which he says oppresses media workers. Photo by Faye Sales

LEADER. Talents Association of GMA (TAG) President Christian Cabaluna tells the crowd that TAG is not against GMA-7 per se but against the present talent system, which he says oppresses media workers.

Photo by Faye Sales

Labor arbiter's decision

The NLRC decision affirmed with modifications an earlier 17-page decision by labor arbiter Julio Gayaman, who ruled that the complaining talents "clearly perform functions that are essential part of GMA’s normal operation, and constitute an integral part of GMA’s business under its substantial control."

Their "works are indispensable to GMA’s business," the decision read.

"The continuing need for their services, as shown by their repeated and continuous hiring are clear indicia that their services are necessary and desirable to GMA’s business,” it read further.

According to Gayaman, "the degree of supervision and control that GMA exercised" over the talents show they are regular employees.

The talent agreement contained "restrictive provisions" that make the talents subject to "rules and regulations imposed by GMA” on their work schedule, work venue, and tasks assigned.

A talents’ job description as stipulated in the talent agreement already constrains the means and method of their work, Gayaman's decision read further.

TAG has been supported in their plight by a host of labor groups, students' groups, legislators, as well as faculty members and officials of the country's premier state university.

Their movement gained momentum on social media, but their leaders saw their legal fight as a possible precedent for talents across networks. (READ: GMA-7's talents: We're thinking of future journalists– Rappler.com