GMA Network

Cameramen win Supreme Court labor case vs GMA, get backwages

Lian Buan
More than the monetary awards, the cameramen's case is significant because of the Court's pronouncement of what makes a worker a regular employee, a perennial problem in a contractualization-ridden industry.

In a significant labor win for media workers, cameramen of broadcast giant GMA Network were declared by the Supreme Court to be regular employees entitled to backwages, allowances, and other benefits.

The Supreme Court (SC) said on Tuesday, September 22, that the Third Division had decided to order GMA Network to reinstate 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen who were fired by the network in May 2013.

“The Supreme Court has ordered GMA Network, Inc. (GMA) to reinstate 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen and pay their backwages, allowances, and other benefits from the time of their illegal dismissal in 2013 up to the time of their actual reinstatement,” said the SC Public Information Office in a statement Tuesday.

The Third Division decision, penned by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, also ordered GMA to pay attorneys’ fee equivalent to 10% of the total monetary award to each petitioner.

Not only that, “the amounts due to each petitioner shall bear legal interest at the rate of 6% per annum, to be computed from finality of Court’s decision until full payment,” said the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has asked the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) to compute the monetary awards for each petitioner.

Regular workers

More than the monetary awards, the cameramen’s case is significant because of the Court’s pronouncement of what makes a worker a regular employee, a perennial problem in a contractualization-ridden industry.

The cameramen were hired between 2005 and 2011 by GMA and fired in 2013. The cameramen filed a case of illegal dismissal, saying that as regular employees, there should have been due process for their firing.

But GMA said they were not regular workers. GMA argued that the cameramen were hired because of their “unique skills, talent and celebrity status not possessed by ordinary employees.”

In the regularization test, if the workers are proven to have been hired because of unique skills and the employer did not exercise control over the means or methods of their work, then they are contractors and not employees.

But the Supreme Court disagreed that they were mere contractors.

“GMA provided the equipment used during tapings and assigned supervisors to monitor the petitioners’ performance and guarantee their compliance with company protocols and standards,” the Supreme Court said in explaining how the cameramen satisfied the element of having your means and methods of work controlled by the employer.

“The Court also gave weight to petitioners’ arguments that they were regular employees having performed functions that were necessary and desirable to GMA’s usual business as a television and broadcasting company,” said the Supreme Court, referring to the Labor Code’s test that if a worker is a necessary and desirable worker, then he or she is a regular employee.

“In this case, GMA repeatedly engaged petitioners as camera operators for its television programs. As such, petitioners performed activities which are within the regular and usual business of GMA and not identifiably distinct or separate from the other undertakings of the media network,” said the Court.

“It would be absurd to consider the nature of the petitioners’ work of operating cameras as distinct or separate from the business of GMA, a broadcasting company that produces, records and airs television programs,” the Court added.

Fight against contractualization

The Supreme Court said GMA Network had a view of “circumventing the right to security of tenure.”

“The Court held that it cannot enable GMA in hiring and rehiring workers solely depending on its fancy…The Court held that petitioners are regular employees and enjoy the right to security of tenure,” said the Supreme Court.

The legal principles of what constitutes a regular employee are also being invoked by a group of more than 100 talents of GMA News and Public Affairs, collectively known as the Talents Association of GMA (TAG), whose own regularization case has reached the Supreme Court.

The Court of Appeals had declared the TAG talents to be regular employees, but GMA recently filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.

The 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen who are entitled to monetary awards are:

  • Henry T. Paragele
  • Roland Elly C. Jaso
  • Julie B. Aparante
  • Roderico S. Abad
  • Milandro B. Zafe, Jr.
  • Richard P. Bernardo
  • Joseph C. Agus
  • Romerald S. Taruc
  • Zernan Bautista
  • Arnold Motita
  • Jeffrey Canaria
  • Rommel F. Bulic
  • Henry N. Ching
  • Nomer C. Orozco
  • Jameson M. Fajilan
  • Jay Albert E. Torres
  • Rodel P. Galero
  • Carl Lawrence Jasa Nario
  • Romeo Sanchez Mangali III
  • Francisco Rosales, Jr.
  • Bonicarl Penaflorida Usaraga
  • Joven P. Licon
  • Noriel Barcita Sy
  • Gonzalo Manabat Bawar
  • David Adonis S. Ventura
  • Solomon Pico Sarte
  • Jony F. Liboon
  • Jonathan Peralta Anito
  • Jerome Torralba
  • Jayzon Marsan

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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 or tweet @lianbuan.