I had read about the stories of the members of the Talent Association of GMA (TAG) Network with sadness and frustration, compassion and anger. I could not believe that this institution, this high profile media network, could be so unkind to its workers of 5, 10, 15 years. I could not believe that the same space that I thought had treated me well enough for three years (or so) as a regular contributor for GMA News Online, had decided to treat its workers so badly.
Because being unfair to another, oppressing one’s workers, is a decision one makes. But also being silenced by fear — that makes us all complicit.
From December 2014:
I’m in awe of the group of GMA7 contractual workers who banded together to form the Talent Association of GMA (TAG).
Because it always takes an amount of daring to speak out about the conditions of one’s employment, especially when one does not have the benefit of tenure or security. Anyone who has lived as contractual employee would know how this state of employment also effectively silences: how do you speak when you risk losing your job? How do you speak when you hope that at some point you might get regularized, because it is what the law says for one thing, because you actually love what you do on the other?
And yes, you also learn to love the institution that you serve, no matter the realization that it might not be treating you well. In fact, the system is such that one is allowed to forget no social security benefits, no health card, when one is treated differently from the every-factory worker because one is given some overtime pay or night deferential, the Christmas bonus maybe, if not a food basket.
We are made to think of how so many other workers receive so much less, that receiving a fraction of what we actually have a right to is enough. In the context of the Philippines where we like to deny unemployment and underemployment to be true, what silences us is the truth that we can only be thankful to have jobs, no matter how horrid the conditions.
It’s also why a group like TAG is sadly so rare in this country. It’s why it can only be defined by its daring to speak, even when it means welcoming 2015 as part of the country’s unemployed.
TAG is showing us all what it means to be silent. It reveals why sometimes our right to speak is all we have.
The past week ended with news that the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) had decided in favor of TAG.
In a resolution signed by Labor Arbiter Julio Gayaman on June 22, 2015, the 107 talents were declared “regular employees of GMA Network Inc. and as such are entitled to security of tenure and all benefits and rights appurtenant thereto.”
According to the resolution, TAG has proven that its members are necessary and desirable to GMA’s operations. It also said that the Talent Contract that establishes no employer-employee relationship is not legally binding.
It says “the employment status of a person is defined and prescribed by law and not by what the parties say it should be.” The labor arbiter agrees with TAG in its position that based on Article 280 of the Labor Code, its members are employees of the Network.
The labor arbiter also orders GMA Network to reinstate the workers it has dismissed. This order is immediately executory even pending an appeal.
Of course GMA can appeal this, and keep it in the courts for years. But this decision is already a huge one for TAG, for all media workers, and all contractual creative workers because it points out that the employment status of a person is defined and prescribed by law, NOT by employer or employee.
It also reminds that the labor laws are in fact quite clear about workers’ rights. But when you have a government that turns a blind eye to labor injustice, when you have a labor department that refuses to listen to workers and hear their plight, well, we have the workers of TAG.
And they are not alone.