SPECIAL REPORT: Talents, or those who are not considered “regular” employees by the GMA 7 management despite years of service do not receive their 13th month pay, a mandatory benefit under the Labor Code.
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Sidebar | Talent? | How can you be considered a regular employee
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Christmas season is special for Filipinos. For talents of the giant network GMA-7, however, Christmas is no time to be merry.
Talents, or those who are not considered “regular” employees by the GMA 7 management, despite years of service, do not receive their 13th month pay, a mandatory benefit under the Labor Code. Their bonus, meanwhile, depends on the profitability of the programs they work in.
Thirty-year-old Jay Francisco, who has been with the GMA since 2008, said he told his wife not to expect anything for Christmas.
Francisco is one of the 125 talents who filed a regularization case against GMA Network Inc. at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) last month. These talents (a euphemism for contractual employees) actually do jobs essential to the operations of the network, working as executive producers, associate producers, writers, segment producers/writers, researchers, cameramen, production assistants, graphic artists, among others.
Francisco was hired in 2008 as a coordinator for DZBB’s Imbestigador. After two years, he applied as coordinator for Imbestigador (IMB) Action Center, a public affairs program of the network. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., he receives complaints of all types and provides advice to people from all walks of life.
Some of those who walk in at the IMB Action Center complain about unfair labor practices. “Of course, I could not tell them we are in the same situation,” Francisco said. “Some ask us how to claim their pension and other benefits. I envy them for they have something to claim while we, talents, have nothing at all.”
Such realization dawned on him in July this year.
To save on transportation costs, Francisco rides a motorcycle going to work. One day, he had a minor accident. Thinking of the “no work, no pay” policy for talents, he still went to work that day even as he walked with a limp. As a talent, he is not allowed to avail of the services of the company’s clinic. His colleague advised him to go to East Avenue Medical Center for a checkup. He did, but after queuing for hours, he decided to go home.
He endured the pain for days, hoping it would just go away. It never got any better though so he went to a private hospital near their house for a checkup. The doctor said he had septic arthritis or bacterial infection on his wound and had to be confined. He was told he needed to undergo surgery.
“That day, I only had P1,000 in my wallet,” Francisco said. He has no health insurance and no sick leave.
The hospital bill amounted to P350,000. He did not get any financial help from the company. Instead, his colleagues at the IMB Action Center pitched in from their own pockets to give to him. He asked help from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, from relatives and friends.
“That served as a wakeup call,” Francisco said. “If I die, I would get nothing from GMA 7 but flowers,” he said, shaking his head.
When he joined the filing of the case, his wife supported him. “She, too, is fed up already,” he said.
His take-home pay of P17,900 per month could hardly cover the family’s expenditures. All of his three children are going to school.
According to estimates by independent thinktank Ibon Foundation in August 2013, a family needs P1,051 or P31,530 per month to cover food and non-food items such as health, education, housing, electricity, water, etc.
The other talents, such as program researchers, get as low as P12,000 per month, minus the ten-percent income tax.
In an email interview, labor lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr. of the Pro Labor Legal Assistance Center said the GMA-7 talents have all the right to file a regularization case against the management.
Citing jurisprudence on labor cases, Saladero said GMA talents can be considered regular employees if the four-way fold test is present. These are (1) the selection and engagement of the employee, or the power to hire; (2) the payment of wages; (3) the power to dismiss; and (4) the power to control the employee as to the means and manner of doing his work are with the GMA management. (See: Talent? | How can you be considered a regular employee)
Saladero further said the GMA could not use the Jose Sonza vs. ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation ruling in their defense because the GMA 7 talents clearly differ from broadcaster Jay Sonza’s status then. Unlike Sonza, GMA 7 talents are not paid a talent fee of more than P300,000 per month and are not hosts to a show where the management has minimal control.
The veteran labor lawyer added that the GMA 7 talents are entitled to benefits such as holiday pay, night time premium, service incentive leave, right to join a union, Social Security System benefits, Philhealth, overtime pay and 13th month pay.
The GMA-7 talents are in for a long haul. They have just started asserting their rights and claiming their dignity as workers.
Owned by Felipe Gozon and Gilberto Duavit Jr. the GMA Network Inc. gained P14 billion revenues in 2012.
In its official statement, the GMA Network Inc. said of the case, “Contrary to the unfair and baseless accusations made by the complainants, GMA Network cares for its talents, whom it considers vital to its success.”
Francisco said talents like him love their job and they are proud of the achievements of the company. “Our efforts have contributed to the success of the company. We hope we could also be part of the progress.”
Aware that the situation of GMA 7 talents are the same with the other giant media networks, Saladero said talents should organize themselves, learn to assert their rights and make use of both the legal and extra-legal venues to seek redress.