CA reinstates, awards back wages to GMA workers fired for protesting

Lian Buan
CA reinstates, awards back wages to GMA workers fired for protesting
(UPDATED) The Court of Appeals also awards backwages to 35 talents whose contracts were not renewed, saying it is a case of constructive dismissal

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered not only the reinstatement but also the award of full backwages and benefits to 51 workers of GMA Network who were fired in 2015 for protesting their non-regularization.

“Accordingly, the Court finds the following employees to be regular employees of respondent GMA and is entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights, full backwages inclusive of allowance, and any and all benefit regular employees of GMA receives computed from the time his or her compensation was withheld up to the time of his or her actual reinstatement,” the CA said in a decision promulgated on February 19.

The decision was penned by Associate Justice Ronaldo Roberto Martin, with concurrences from associate justices Manuel Barrios and Walter Ong.  

The CA said the records shall be remanded to the Labor Arbiter for proper computation of how much will be awarded to the 51 talents, who are now declared regular employees by the appellate court.

Workers filed an illegal dismissal case when GMA Network fired them in 2015 for holding a rally in front of the network offices on Timog Avenue in Quezon City, and for not reporting to work for several days out of protest against their non-regularization.

The Talents Association of GMA or TAG also won the mother case at the CA – the case that seeks to declare talents as regular employees. GMA has appealed that case before the Supreme Court.

See the names of the 51 TAG members

Protesting not legal basis to fire

Fifteen of the 51 were fired  because they were among the TAG members who held a rally and did not report for days out of protest. At the time, they were protesting their employment status, wanting to be regularized, and because they were protesting the network’s policy of requiring them to issue receipts for their paychecks.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) was requiring receipts from business owners and GMA had categorized the talents as self-employed who were covered by the policy.

GMA said the 15 breached contract by not reporting for work.

The Court of Appeals said the Labor Code allows termination of an employee if there is gross and habitual neglect of duty. The court said the absences of the 15 were not habitual.

“Thus, aside from these particular dates petitioners absented themselves, GMA never presented any other instance when said petitioners committed other unauthorized absences, which negates the very definition of habituality,” the CA said.

“Since GMA failed to prove the twin requirement that the neglect was gross and habitual, there is no sufficient ground to terminate the concerned petitioners’ employment in this case,” the CA added.

The National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) initially junked the illegal dismissal case filed by the 15, but the CA has reversed that in this ruling.

Constructive dismissal

For the 35, GMA said they were not renewed “on the ground that some of them refused, failed to reply to their offer, or performed poorly.”

The workers said that while GMA’s general terms require that they be offered renewal prior to expiration of contract, the offers came after the expiration of contract, some were offered months belatedly “thus interrupting the continuity of their service.”

The CA ruled this as constructive dismissal.

“By reason of GMA’s non-compliance with their own General Terms, it is obvious that petitioners were not offered any contract renewals, and were thus, constructively dismissed,” said the CA.

“GMA should have complied with the procedural due process in terminating its employees especially since petitioners are regular employees,” the court added.

One of the workers, Jevi Bilaos, tendered a voluntary resignation, GMA said. The CA is awarding him backwages only from when his contract started on March 1, 2014, to the time of his resignation on September 17, 2014.

The Associated Labor Unions (ALU), through its national executive vice president Gerard Seno, said in statement Tuesday: “We take off our hat to the resilience demonstrated by every TAG union member since 2015. Jobless and without money, they persevered amid various pressures and adversities. They are an admirable example to aggrieved workers to keep united, to keep on fighting to the last.” 

ALU provided legal assistance to TAG. 

Trade Union Congress of the Philippines president Raymond Mendoza said, “The broader implications of the decision of the appelate court in favor of GMA 7 contractual workers will definitely restore the faith of aggrieved workers to our labor justice system often perceived always in favor of employers, management, and business owners.” – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.