GMA workers demand testing after employee gets COVID-19

Workers of media giant GMA Network demanded the company to test newsroom employees for the coronavirus, after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

In a strongly-worded statement on Friday, July 17, the Talents Association of GMA (TAG) slammed the network for its alleged “slow response” after the staff tested positive in a confirmatory polymerase chain reaction or PCR test.

“[W]orkers from the GMA News and Public Affairs Department who had close contact with the patient have been notified and advised to go on self-quarantine, while others – as usual – were allegedly kept in the dark until word inadvertently spread,” TAG said.

An unimpeachable source told Rappler that GMA did not shoulder the cost of the PCR testing of the COVID-19-positive employee.

TAG, as well as several sources, confirmed that GMA has shouldered costs for scheduled rapid tests for regular employees and some project-based workers that go out for fieldwork. (READ: FAST FACTS: What's the difference between PCR, rapid antibody tests?)

Insiders likewise told Rappler that service vans are provided for employees who need to report to the office but have no private vehicles.

However, mandatory rapid testing for those working inside the newsroom has yet to be provided.

“There is a clamor among workers for the company to shoulder mandatory rapid testing for all newsroom staff, but so far they have been told that top management has allegedly yet to make an announcement,” TAG claimed.

“This has left untested newsroom staff to figure out how to get and pay for a rapid test on their own, how to take it without breaking quarantine, and how to do it as soon as possible for the welfare of their colleagues and families. It has been a traumatizing last few days for those who have not been tested yet.”

Like other news organizations, GMA has scaled down operations due to the pandemic.

While TAG recognized that there was a need for some workers to go to the office, they urged that GMA should "lay down protocols in the event that their staff tests positive for the deadly virus."

Rappler sources said that the GMA newsroom observes physical distancing and does not allow employees working on different programs to meet. Some employees also work from home to reduce the number of people in offices.

“To ask workers to report for work without assuring their health and well-being not only endangers everyone in the newsroom, but will also risk affecting the continued operations of one of the few remaining sources of critical information amid this pandemic,” TAG said.

“Many of our colleagues in ABS-CBN are facing uncertainties because of possible retrenchment, and it appears those left in the front lines like GMA Network face greater risks of contracting COVID-19 if slow implementation of safety protocols is not addressed.”

Meanwhile, TAG also criticized the network's move of removing hazard pay for some workers.

Rappler has verified through two separate sources that hazard pay has indeed stopped since Metro Manila was placed under general community quarantine. Reporters and those who go out for fieldwork have hazard pay.

Rappler has reached out to the network about its health protocols as well as how the situation will impact operations since Thursday, July 16. The Kapuso network responded on Friday night, July 17, that they will provide Rappler a copy of the statement once it is released.

GMA's response

In a statement released on Saturday, July 18, GMA Network said it "immediately took action" when the employee informed them about her positive test result.

"That same night, her permission was secured in compliance with the Data Privacy Act and which she readily gave so contact tracing was done swiftly and thoroughly.  Those who had come into direct contact with the COVID positive co-worker were immediately placed on 14-day quarantine with pay.  They shall also undergo rapid testing," said GMA.

It added that the work areas were further disinfected, and that health protocols had been in place in the news room as well as during field coverage.

"Even if not required by government, GMA has conducted free rapid testing for field personnel and committed to shoulder the cost of the confirmatory RT-PCR test of anyone who tested positive due to exposure in their line of work," GMA added. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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