Talents win regularization case vs GMA-7

PROTEST. Supporters of the Talents Association of GMA (TAG) stage a protest against network giant GMA-7's alleged withholding of some TAG members' salaries. All photos by Faye Sales

PROTEST. Supporters of the Talents Association of GMA (TAG) stage a protest against network giant GMA-7's alleged withholding of some TAG members' salaries.

All photos by Faye Sales

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Members of the Talents Association of GMA (TAG) won their regularization case before a labor arbiter of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) against network giant GMA-7, their lawyer told Rappler in an interview.

Labor lawyer Ricardo Lapesura Jr on Thursday, June 25, said he expected the win "because we have a very good position."

"We knew all along that we are on the side of the law," he added.

A photo TAG posted on its Facebook page shows the end part of an order dated June 22 and signed by Labor Arbiter Julio Gayaman. The order declared names of TAG members as regular employees who are "entitled to security of tenure and all benefits and rights" such workers enjoy. 

TAG president Christian Cabaluna, a producer for investigative show Imbestigador, said he shed tears when he learned of the good news.

Lapesura had called Cabaluna on the phone to let him know of the order, which the latter even doubted at first.

"Si Attorney kasi, palabiro, so akala ko binibiro lang ako, tapos totoo pala," he said. (Attorney loves making jokes, so I thought he was just kidding but it was apparently true.)

The labor arbiter's decision can be appealed before the commission. The decision stands in the absence of an appeal.

Members of TAG filed a labor suit against GMA-7 in two batches in 2014, after the network giant refused to regularize them despite their necessity and desirability to the day-to-day operations of the company. (READ: GMA-7 talents risk losing jobs over regularization plight)

Covered by the June 22 order are talents in the first batch of regularization case filed in May 2014.

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

Cabaluna earlier said he expected the case to drag on for 5 years, including a possible appeal before higher courts.

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. 

Network talents are the technical and creative runners behind GMA-7's highly-rated public affairs shows, with only the program manager and program administrator as regular employees more often than not.

These talents propose and develop story ideas, write scripts and spiels, produce audiovisual reports, shoot interviews, source contacts and contributors, fact check stories, and find case studies for stories, among others, for GMA-7's top-rated, award-winning public affairs shows.

The talents are likewise a ready set of people the network can tap into for coverage other than those stipulated in their talent agreements, including breaking news, election coverage, and special reports. (READ: GMA-7's talents: We're thinking of future journalists)

In position papers, GMA-7 denied any employer-employee relationship with its talents, regarding them instead as independent contractors.

The talents' NLRC case seeks to reform the talent system, a practice not exclusive to GMA-7, but is prevalent in most, if not all, television networks in the country.

CANDLE-LIGHTING. Candles are lit and prayers offered to raise awareness on widespread contractualization in the country. Photo by Faye Sales

CANDLE-LIGHTING. Candles are lit and prayers offered to raise awareness on widespread contractualization in the country.

Photo by Faye Sales

Livelihood now secure? 

Cabaluna said he was especially concerned for the TAG members whose contracts were ending by June 30. Delayed resolution of the case would have put their livelihood in peril.

These contracts were based on the independent contractor status that GMA-7 had imposed on them. The contracts were subject to renewal every few months, or were tied to the existence of shows.

Without being regularized, the talents were not provided with social security insurance, health insurance, and other law-mandated benefits.

TAG member Allan Lazaro said he was "happy for TAG and the industry" but understands there is still a long way to go for the case to reach its finality.

TAG's Ely del Rosario, executive producer of award-winning show Reel Time, had earlier expressed determination in pursuing their case till the end.  

He said their labor suit will be their legacy – a clear strengthening of media workers' right to security of tenure.

The media industry is among many local industries where widespread precarious employment pervades.

In the Philippines, survey results released last May 2014 show one in 3 workers in establishments with at least 20 employees are non-regular. They represent 1.149 million of the 3.769 million establishment workers.

Sought for comment by Rappler, GMA-7 has yet to react to the company's initial legal defeat. – Rappler.com