ABS-CBN labor dispute leads to mass termination

by John Reiner M. Antiquerra

They were asking for regularization, but ended up losing their jobs. One of them was Antonio Perez.

Antonio Perez, a video editor, had been working for ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. since 1997. Perez had never been offered regularization. Last June, he was terminated while he was in the middle of editing.

Perez is just one of about 40 ABS-CBN technical services employees who have been fired. They were simply not scheduled for work and/or received text messages from their supervisors that they should not report for work anymore.

Most of those who were fired were members of the Internal Job Market (IJM) Workers’ Union. In ABS-CBN, technical workers and even some reporters are sourced through the IJM. Osorio said IJM is a database “which provides the network a list of accredited technical or creative manpower who offer their services to the company.” Thus, for ABS-CBN management, IJM workers are considered “talents,” not regular employees.

ABS-CBN Corporate Communications Head Ramon “Bong” Osorio denies that the network had fired anyone. He said in a statement that “Contrary to what other groups have written and claimed, ABS-CBN is not dismissing or retrenching employees. In fact, we are even hiring for said new positions from the IJM (Internal Job Market) pool.” ABS-CBN does not consider its hires from IJM as employees. Hence, Osorio’s claim that the network is “not dismissing or retrenching employees.”

Talents, not employees

PJR Reports noted in 2008 that contractualization is common in the Philippine media as most TV network reporters and other media workers are hired as “talents” who have no job security.

“Non-employees” do not have the same benefits as employees. Regular ABS-CBN employees receive a monthly sack of rice, education and health benefits, leaves and overtime pay. However, IJM hires enjoy health benefits only through private health cards; they have no 13th month pay, only incentives; and they receive a sack of rice only every two months.

The IJM workers formed a union in March 2009. They were able to register the IJM Workers’ Union in July that year, but failed in April this year to get full accreditation when the group filed for a petition for certification of election, which would have allowed them to seek a collective bargaining agreement with the company.

ABS-CBN claims that the IJM workers are not their direct employees as they are employed through IJM, which is a separate entity from the company.

Union busting?

The members of the IJM Workers’ Union cried foul over the alleged “union-busting” scheme of the company of firing union officials and members. In a Bulatlat.com report, Perez said “They (ABS-CBN) have offered–or forced–the bogus regular status to justify their claim that IJM workers are still not workers under ABS-CBN, and thus have no right to form a union and collectively bargain with ABS-CBN management.” Perez serves as president of the IJM Workers’ Union.

ABS-CBN immediately slammed such claims. Osorio said: “The call to have the ABS-CBN IJM workers’ union recognized has been dismissed by the appropriate government quasi-judicial body.”

Further, Osorio said “ABS-CBN management has been involved every step of the way in the issue, and a decision to regularize some of them has been made. The regularization process was carried out in accordance with the law.”

Before they were terminated, ABS-CBN offered the dismissed workers regularization via “technical specialist” positions. The offer came the proviso that the workers would withdraw any case they have filed against the company.

The terminated workers, who had been working for the company for 10 to 20 years, refused to accept the offer as ABS-CBN would not credit the number of years they had served and would in effect treat them newly hired employees.

Since 2002, different groups of ABS-CBN employees have filed cases before the labor courts for regularization. A group of cameramen won their regularization case against the TV network. However, ABS-CBN filed a motion for reconsideration that is still pending.

The problems of IJM hires are not unique. ABS-CBN Cebu drivers, cameramen and other technical workers cried foul in 1999 when they were excluded from the company’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with rank-and-file employees. The group discovered that ABS-CBN considered them contractual workers. But the group claimed that they were regular employees, having served the company for a year, and were entitled to benefits under the law including benefits mandated by the CBA.

The affected workers complained. But while the case was pending at the National Labor Relations Commission, some of the petitioners were dismissed for “their refusal to sign contracts of employment with service contractor Able Services.”

The petitioners filed a complaint for illegal dismissal but lost their case when ABS-CBN claimed that the termination was due to redundancy, or excessive manpower.

The Supreme Court ruled on Jan. 21 this year that the petitioners were indeed regular employees of the company, and entitled to benefits accorded by law. The high court also ruled that the petitioners were illegally dismissed and ordered ABS-CBN to reinstate them.

According to the Labor Code, an employee who “has been engaged to perform activities which are usually necessary or desirable in the usual business or trade of the employer” is considered a regular employee. Regularization can happen either after six months for employees under probation or after a year of service, whether continuous or broken.

International concern

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed concern on the issue and is “calling for ABS-CBN to withdraw these contracts, reinstate the staff and recognize the right employees have to permanent work and all related benefits under law, free of retrograde conditions.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ- affiliated organization, also called on ABS-CBN management to “respect the rights of employees to job security, organize, seek redress of grievances, and fair working conditions. The labor issues should be resolved amicably through dialogue and not through intimidation and termination of employees.”

“Journalists in the country are being murdered and attacked continuously by the enemies of press freedom. The last thing that we need (are) attacks from our own employers,” NUJP said in a statement.

Meanwhile, IJM employees terminated from work have filed labor cases against the television network for unfair labor practices. Some of the terminated employees continuously hold small rallies outside the premises of ABS-CBN and have asked the help of labor experts, the Catholic Church and even the new president.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivered his first State of the Nation Address on July 26 and in a statement, NUJP observed that: “the President was silent on massive contractualization in the media industry, low wages of employees and worsening retrenchment and termination even of regular employees.”

One response to “ABS-CBN labor dispute leads to mass termination”

  1. Sacked: ABS-CBN fires more employees | Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility says:

    […] Hidalgo is among the increasing number of ABS-CBN employees who have been sacked since June this year. Based on the latest count of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), a total of 112 ABS-CBN employees have so far been sacked, an increase from the 40 the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) first reported last Aug. 2. […]