MANILA — In 2007, Gabby Lopez, the head of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN, publicly commended their reporter Wheng Hidalgo for serving as a good example of how far a “kapamilya” would go to help a “kapamilya.” During a segment of the network’s program TV Patrol, an official of the Malacañang Office for Religious Affairs was seen slamming the door in Ms Hidalgo’s face after she unearthed and reported an anomaly involving a missing money donation for a cancer patient.
Last week, though, it was the ABS-CBN that slammed its door in Hidalgo’s face, figuratively speaking, after the reporter’s seven-year complaint with the DOLE against ABS-CBN unearthed anomalies in the network’s treatment of its employees. Ms Hidalgo’s termination followed months of seeming discrimination in her work schedule as word came out that the DOLE would favorably decide on her and five other reporters’ labor case , which they filed last 2003.
Her termination (or end of contract, from the point of view of ABS-CBN management) followed the DOLE decision saying Hidalgo is supposed to be treated as a regular employee by ABS-CBN. It turned out that despite having been with ABS-CBN for 16 years, Hidalgo is not a regular but a contractual employee. She said they sometimes work without contract. Although the DOLE decision has favored her, the ABS-CBN does not appear in the mood to follow it.
When Hidalgo’s latest six-month employment contract lapsed last August 31, the ABS-CBN management “offered” her a “regularization package” that neither recognized her 16-year tenure nor promised her the backwages and other benefits that she should have received for much of 16 years, if ABS-CBN had followed the law and recognized her as a regular employee. The so-called regularization gave her the salary rates of a starting reporter. On top of it, ABS-CBN wanted Hidalgo to drop her labor complaint.
“How could I accept that?” Hidalgo asked.
She told Bulatlat that she was even willing to forgo the backwages and retroactive benefits as long as the company at least recognized her 16-year tenure. But no, she lamented, she was treated instead like she’s privileged the company still deigned to talk to her about regularizing her after she had filed a case against it.
Employee Abuses in ABS-CBN
Ms Hidalgo’s case points to other similar employee abuses and violations of the Labor Code in the profitable network. Aside from Ms. Hidalgo, more than a hundred employees in the thousand-strong IJM (internal job market), who had been employed from five to 20 years at the company, have been terminated since June this year when they refused to drop their complaints or agree to regularizations that came with pay cuts, erased years of work history with the company, among other “lopsided” terms, as the ABS-CBN IJM Workers Union reported. Other regularizations offered this year are covered by fixed-term contracts.
If the working condition of employees in ABS-CBN’s internal job market, a pool of talents or workers’ database as ABS-CBN called them, is appalling and deplorable enough for its employees to seek the DOLE’s help, the working condition of other employees seemed even worse.
Hidalgo for instance explained that she was with IPC (intellectual property creators), which is like IJM except that the IJM workers use their skills on machines, while the IPCs are supposed to be “talents” per project or paid for their “artistic output.”
The IJM’s, IPC’s and the TS (or technical staff) – all used to be part of unionized and regularized rank and file employees– are “talents” that in ABS-CBN’s practice are not governed by the country’s eight-hour work law, mandatory vacation or sick leave. Some do not even have Pag-ibig or SSS membership.
Reporters may work eight to 16 hours a day but their pay remains the same. They get no overtime pay. If they worked overnight, then that is only the time they can offset it with a day-off, but that depends on whether the operation would not suffer with this proposed day off.
It is “no-work, no-pay” for thousands of ABS-CBN’s non-regular employees, said Hidalgo. These non-regular employees are the same employees that the DOLE said should have been regarded as regular.
From the time she began working in ABS-CBN in 1994, when the network took her in after her student practicum there, Hidalgo said she had never taken a vacation or leave of absence, except for one month when she delivered her baby. And that was an unpaid leave.
Hidalgo seemed very used to working nonstop that as soon as she lost her job, the one and only job she has had since she graduated from college, she suffered a severe gut-wrenching illness that forced her to rush to a hospital emergency room.
A reporter on leave also told Bulatlat that as talents frequently seen on TV, the BIR people who want to tax them more could not seem to understand that they do not earn that much, really.
He said he himself had also visited the offices of Pag-ibig to register as a member, but the employees there directed him instead to the ABS-CBN human resources.
“I have been with ABS-CBN for six years, but my individual application had to be handled by the company liaison to Pag-ibig, who told me that Pag-ibig is only for regular employees.”
Hidalgo and this male reporter told Bulatlat that even if they face the cameras as part of their jobs, they also pay for their own grooming. And when they research their stories, they must pay for their own health insurance.
While reporters may go out of their way for a story, brave bullets, back hoes, floodwaters, slamming doors, hostage-takers, among others, he said they started to receive life insurance from ABS-CBN only recently, and at very small rates at that. Starting this year, the two reporters said the company began insuring the non-regulars for P100,000 ($2,278) and the regular employees for P400,000 ($9,115) .
Considering the positive DOLE decision on her case, Hidalgo was shocked at having lost her job. Her desk editors and immediate superiors had reportedly liked her work, enough to give her assignments and recommend her for regularization. “I cannot understand why…I gave ABS-CBN my service, love, loyalty,” she said.
The male reporter who had been with ABS-CBN for six years, said he cannot understand it either. “We have sacrificed many family reunions for shows during holiday seasons, Holy Week; we have lost a lot of sleep over our jobs.”
The two are glad that many progressive party list groups and organizations are taking up the ABS-CBN employees’ cases. “I would push through with the case I filed,” Hidalgo said. She vowed to pursue the implementation of DOLE’s decision on her case.
As this developed, an alliance of labor advocates called Defend Job Philippines, embarked on a signature drive urging job defenders, workers’ unions, workers’ council and international labor organizations, solidarity groups, workers’ rights advocates, students, televiewers, human rights defenders, non government organizations, fellow citizens and concerned people to support calls to, among others:
•“Pressure the ABS-CBN to reinstate without condition all of the 110 ABS CBN employees it illegally dismissed this year;
•Urge ABS-CBN to stop the illegal dismissal of workers and discriminatory regularization scheme. Stop contractualization and outsourcing. Regularize all ABS CBN/IJM Workers;
•Urge ABS-CBN to stop harassing its workers and respect instead its workers’ rights to organize a union; and
•Urge the new administration of President Aquino, the Department of Labor and Employment and all government agencies concerned, to act in favor of ABS CBN employees who are only asserting their rights.”
The youth group Anakbayan, meanwhile, charged that “Gabby Lopez is confident that as a crony of the new President, he would be allowed to carry out his anti-worker schemes with impunity.”
The Lopezes are known supporters of Aquino’s presidential candidacy. The ABS-CBN network has allegedly supported Aquino’s candidacy through biased reporting. A reporter of the network has also been appointed in Aquino’s cabinet.
Anakbayan spokesperson Charisse Bañez dared President Benigno Aquino to publicly condemn the mass dismissals of employees in the ABS-CBN network, “if he truly favors the interest of common Filipinos over his perceived cronies such as the Lopezes of the ABS-CBN.”
Originally posted September 11, 2010 with the title For ABS-CBN, Six to 16 Years of Service to the Company Does Not Seem to Matter on Bulatlat.com