Reposted from Manila Today
“Kung kami mga journalist, pinagtatanggol namin ‘yung mga karapatan ng ibang tao, edi mas dapat din naming ipagtanggol ‘yung mga karapatan namin (We as journalists fight for the rights of other people, so the more we should also fight for our rights.),” said Mike Manalaysay, member of the Talents Association of GMA (TAG), describing their plight as workers of GMA Network, Inc.
Chloe Garcera-Ben has worked for almost 13 years in GMA Network Inc. (GMA 7), one of the three biggest media conglomerates in the Philippines. She finds fulfillment in her job as head coordinator of Imbestigator’s Sumbungan ng Bayan. Despite the everyday stress of the work, listening to different qualms of several people seeking for help—some even crying in front of her—there is a sense of validation especially when some of them would come back to her team just to say thank you.
However, she already heard the last of it. Last month, the network did not renew her contract after she refused to sign the Project Employment Contract (PEC), the revamped contract offered to them by GMA 7 as answer to labor dispute involving a case filed by TAG (Talents Association of GMA) accusing the network of unfair labor practice. GMA 7, however, denied the allegations.
“We have provided them with all the benefits due them under the contract, so there is no such thing as unfair labor practice. That is a generalization, and we know for a fact that that is a baseless allegation,” said Attorney Regino Moreno, legal counsel of GMA 7.
TAG filed a case on regularization against GMA 7 in the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) on May this year. It underwent through a mediation process which resulted to the creation of PEC. In this new contract, talents are offered with similar benefits of a regular employee, such as SSS, PAG-IBIG, and Philhealth. However, the contract expires in a year, which still does not guarantee them security of tenure, said Bowe Cabaluna, president of TAG. Moreover, according to their lawyer, the contract is actually designed for construction firms.
Bowe added that another striking aspect of the new contract is their 13th month pay, equal portions of which will be subtracted from their monthly salary.
The members of TAG were not satisfied with the provisions of PEC, so they pursued the case against the media giant. But GMA 7 decided to pre-terminate the contracts of all talents on December this year for them to sign the new contract: the PEC. Due to this development, TAG moved the case from regularization case to constructive dismissal.
On November 10, both sides are expected to submit their position papers to the National Labor Relations Commissions (NLRC).
Chloe also has to face the fact that she will not get any compensation from the network despite working for them for over a decade, simply because she was never considered a regular employee, only a talent.
“Sobrang dedicated and passionate kami sa ginagawa namin. Pero ‘yung GMA mukhang hindi ‘yon pinapahalagahan (We are very much dedicated and passionate to what we do. But GMA does not give that any importance.),” said Chloe.
Anatomy of a talent
A talent, as described by Mike Manalaysay, associate producer of Imbestigador, could be considered as “second-class citizens.” Talents are employees in news, public affairs and entertainment programs who are not regular, and, therefore, not entitled to any benefits. They include executive producers, associate producers, segment producers, writers, researchers, edit supervisors, production coordinators, transcribers, and some people from technical team in various programs.
Talents have to renew their contract depending on its expiration date. Before the PEC, a contract is renewed per program and can last from as short as one month to as long as three years. Mike, who has worked 12 years for GMA 7, is a talent himself and had his contract renewed at least five times.
Like Chloe and Mike, talents of around two thousand in number, including those in regional stations of GMA would have their contracts pre-terminated on December this year if they will not sign the PEC. Before the PEC, Mike should still have until March 2015 before renewing his contract again.
According to Bowe, who has been with GMA 7 for nine years already, they work in a “no work, no pay” policy aside from getting “zero benefits”. As talents, they do not have health benefits, overtime pay, holiday pay, sick leave, and vacation leave.
Some talents are compensated for every episode aired and when an episode did not air due to a special coverage eating up regular programming or during Holy Week, they would not get paid even if the program episode was completed and ready for airing. Moreover, their co-workers who are pregnant cannot have maternal leave. Those who do absent themselves from work will just simply not get paid. And despite of the dangers of their job, they will not receive any medication or hospitalization assistance or insurance if they got involved in an accident.
“Kami sa Imbestigator, sumasama talaga kami sa mga pulis para mag-surveillance for months. At ang mga sinu-surveillance namin mga drug lords. Ganun ka-delikado ang trabaho namin (In our work in Imbestigator, we join the police for months for the surveillance. And the people we usually survey are drug lords. That is how dangerous our job is.),” Bowe narrated.
Talents also do not have security of tenure and no retirement benefits. A cameraman they know who is of retiring age fears how his family is going to survive with him too old to work, and not getting any retirement benefits from the network after a decade of hard work.
A source who works in GMA 7 public affairs and who requested anonymity, disclosed to us that she earns ten thousand a month, with a rate of two thousand five hundred pesos per segment. She is a fresh graduate from a premier state university who works as a researcher for a GMA 7 show. She has to produce two segments per episode twice a month, and it would take her the whole seven days of the week to research for the two segments. She said that her salary is expected to increase incrementally once she renewed her contract in three months time.
According to Bowe, a researcher’s salary depends on the rating of the show—higher salary is given to workers in shows that rate higher. He said the pay usually ranges from twelve thousand pesos to sixteen thousand pesos.
For that, a common practice for talents to earn more is to get additional jobs within the network or what they refer to as “raket”. A segment producer can have two to three shows depending on the flexibility of his or her working schedule.
Bowe said that he himself likes to do rakets, although it’s difficult and unhealthy to the body. One time, he experienced breathing difficulties in the middle of a production process after he had not gotten enough rest.
Organizing against unfair labor practice
TAG started to organize May this year. Their membership is composed of over a hundred talents, coming from various programs.
As of now, TAG is “only a group of individuals with similar dispositions” and not yet recognized as an organization inside their employer. Bowe said that after they file their position paper in NLRC on November 10, they will seek for the registration of their group, but they cannot apply as a union because they are not regular employees.
According to Bowe, they have already been conceptualizing the creation of the group months earlier than May when they realized many are grumbling about their plight. But what further provoked them is the order made by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) requiring them to generate their own original receipts (O.R.) whenever they will get their talent fees, as they are considered “service providers” only and not regular employees.
They are also required to pay an additional of three percent tax, aside from the ten percent tax already deducted from their monthly gross income. They are also required to individually file the additional tax monthly.
TAG is demanding for the regularization of talents, alongside benefits and salary increase, especially for those who have already spent many years with the network. They cited Article 281 of the Labor Code of the Philippines stating that “a probationary employment shall not exceed six months from the date the employee started working,” so the employee should be regularized after six months.
On September 30 this year, a case filed by a former cameraman of GMA 7 against the network was dismissed. The cameraman complained his dismissal without due process despite continuous work in the network. But it was rejected by the labor arbiter on the ground of lack of jurisdiction and because of the absence of “employer-employee relationship.”
Bowe said that they had an opportunity to talk with some of their bosses but who told them that “it’s beyond their control and they cannot do anything about it.”
After five months in limbo, waiting for GMA 7’s response to their complaints, what the network presented them instead is the PEC.
Behind the camera scenes
For the public, working in the media industry—being in the middle of important events, meeting prominent people and travelling to many places—probably seems like a prestigious or glamorous job. However, according to the members of the TAG, most people do not know what is happening behind the camera.
Prestige also comes whenever their shows receive awards and recognition both locally and internationally. But the ironic thing, according to them, is most of the people behind the award-winning shows are talents themselves.
Bowe said that the reason for considering them as talents, according to the management, is the “fluidity” of their work schedule, unlike the regular ones who work for eight hours a day. The talents are usually the ones in the fieldwork—shooting, doing interviews, or looking for case studies. However, this often results to more than eight hours a day or five days a week of work. While the regular ones, who are of lesser number, are usually the ones in administrative posts.
Chloe said that she works like a regular employee—Monday to Friday, eight hours a day.
Aside from this, talents feel discrimination in their employment status in as common a situation as a company Family day or Christmas party.
“Kapag family day, kung regular [employee] ka, pwede mong dalhin ‘yung family mo. Pero kung talent ka lang, bawal. Kapag Christmas raffle, may magkaibang tambiolo para sa mga regular [employees], at iba pa ‘yung sa talents (During family day, if you are a regular employee, you can bring your family. But if you are only a talent, you cannot. During Christmas raffle, there is a separate tambiolo for the regular employees, and a different one for the talents.),” Mike recounted.
To further inform the public of their “real” situation in the media industry, they created the Facebook page Buhay Media “to give a voice to the media workers who are experiencing unfair labor practices in the country.” They also included hashtag (#) 65days pertaining to the remaining days before the termination of their contract if they will not sign the PEC. They are also outraged by the fact that GMA 7 can easily replace them with newer talents despite their loyalty and dedication to the network.
Same system in all media networks
TAG expects their membership to diminish due on the pressure to talents to sign the PEC, lest they lose their jobs by the end of the year. Being a member of TAG instantly means not agreeing with the PEC.
Bowe said that they understand the decision made by some of their members to sign the PEC. Despite this, he said that there is still overwhelming support from other talents to the group.
What they want is to change the talent system being practiced not only by GMA 7 but also by the other two biggest media conglomerates, ABS-CBN and TV5. They are planning to collaborate with media workers from other networks to help seek for a more humane working environment for all media workers.
“Ito nalang din siguro ‘yung maiiwan naming legacy. Kahit matanggal kami, at least masasabi namin na may ginawa kami (This is the legacy that we would leave. Even though we lose our job, at least we can say that we did something),” said Mike.
Editor’s Note: An interview with the legal counsel of GMA Network Inc., Attorney Regino Moreno, is set on Friday, November 14, to answer the allegations to them by TAG.
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