GMA-7 sacks 11 core workers protesting contractual labor

Buena Bernal
One of the fired workers says grievances regarding GMA-7's treatment of its talents have been long-running, but the terminated employees dared to go beyond grumbles

 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) – Eleven workers, who were all part of a group which recently won a regularization case against GMA-7, were terminated by the network giant.

The long-time GMA-7 employees occupied core positions in two investigative television programs – Imbestigador and Reporter’s Notebook. They worked exclusively for GMA-7.

The Imbestigador producers were terminated on Wednesday, July 8, while the Reporter’s Notebook producers were terminated last July 3.

Talents Association of GMA (TAG) regarded the dismissal of their members as a form of harassment, claiming it stemmed from the network’s refusal to release their salaries for one full pay cut. 

“They will leave GMA Network without separation pay and other benefits despite their years of service and loyalty to the Network,” TAG said in a statement.

GMA-7 cited the talents’ “extended and unauthorized absence” on the days they stopped work in protest of the network’s withholding of their pay as a reason for termination.

This culminated in a June 7 demonstration held in front of the GMA-7’s main headquarters, calling for an end to contractual labor in the media industry.

But GMA-7 said “this action has jeopardized the program’s production and placed it in possible danger of missing its broadcast schedule.” 

“Further, your actions show that you are willing to put the Program and your teammates in a precarious situation to further a personal agenda, casting doubts as to whether you still have the Program’s best interests in mind,” the GMA-7 termination letter read.

TAG members had sued GMA-7 in two batches last 2014 for being regarded as independent contractors instead of regular employees by the network, depriving them of law-mandated benefits such as state health insurance and social insurance. (READ: GMA-7 talents risk losing jobs over regularization plight)

Their employment in GMA-7 were dictated under fixed terms or tied to the existence of shows. The talents cried foul over the apparent lack of due protection to their constitutionally-guaranteed right to security of tenure. 

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.

While GMA-7 regarded the talents’ actions as part of a scheme for “personal agenda,” the protesting workers believe their regularization case will serve as their legacy to an industry which practices the talent system in more or less the same “oppressive” fashion across networks. (READ: GMA-7’s talents: We’re thinking of future journalists)

In response to the allegation of harassment, GMA-7 Vice President for Legal Affairs Lynn Delfin said: “The action taken by GMA was warranted by the situation as it is only proper for any management to ensure that operations are maintained in the most efficient manner and within the limits allowed by law.”

‘We dared to fight’

TAG President Christian Cabaluna said the group never meant to put anyone else’s job at risk, stressing that the bully was never the talents fighting for their labor rights but the network depriving these rights.

As news of their termination was delivered to them by their superiors in the program who were once talents as well, Cabaluna said he made it a point to stress that grievances regarding the network’s treatment of its so-called talents have been long-running but TAG dared to go beyond mere grumbles.

Cabuluna, among those fired, was an associate producer of Imbestigador for 9 years. He leads over a hundred case filers with TAG.

He said he has experienced threats to his life while working in their crime-busting episodes at Imbesigador.

Imbestigador segment producer Lora Queñano also recalled multiple times she had to work 4 days straight without being home for their show’s surveillance of suspected criminals or for shooting and editing reenactments of crimes. 

As Imbestigador covers “irregularities in the community” including the sale of illegal drugs, Queñano regarded her position as a segment producer of the show a “dangerous job.”

Her family’s breadwinner, she had once been in a drug bust that had to be shot wherein the subjects suddenly drew their guns out and pointed them to law enforcement agents present.

Still, Queñano said she loved her job of 6 years because of the show’s unwavering pursuit to protect those being abused. Ironically, she said this is the same reason why she is pursuing their labor case against GMA-7.

Ayaw ng programa na may inaabuso but then yung irony ang network pa ang unang lumabag sa aking karapatan, gumawa sa akin ng injustice (The program does not want anyone being abused but the irony is that the network itself is violating my rights, doing me injustice),” she said in a phone interview.

Queñano challenged GMA-7 to stay true to the public service-oriented culture it seeks to propagate in its programs.

She said her work with Imbestigador has significantly influenced her value system. “Tinuruan niya ako na wag magsinungaling, wag mag-exploiit (It taught me never to lie, never to exploit others).”

Labor arbiter’s decision

The terminations of the 11 workers – all of whom are engaged in helping frame the strategy of TAG – come almost two weeks after the group’s legal victory before a labor arbiter of the National Labor Relations Commission.

In a 17-page decision, labor arbiter Julio Gayaman 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 constrain the means and method of their work, Gayaman’s decision read further. The decision may be appealed before the commission.

Regino Moreno, counsel for GMA-7 in the case, earlier said they are ready and willing to “exhaust all options” including eventually appealing before the Supreme Court.

“We will protect the interests of our clients and exhaust everything within the bounds of law and procedures,” he said. –