SC Orders GMA Network, Inc. to Reinstate Workers, Pay Backwages

September 22, 2020

Championing labor rights, the Supreme Court has ordered GMA Network, Inc. (GMA) to reinstate 30 cameramen and assistant cameramen and pay their backwages, allowances, and other benefits from the time of their illegal dismissal in 2013 up to the time of their actual reinstatement.

In a decision penned by Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen promulgated on July 13, 2020, the Court’s Third Division declared petitioners as regular employees of GMA. The Court further ordered the media network to pay each of the petitioners’ attorney’s fee equivalent to 10 percent of total monetary award accruing to each of them. The amounts due to each petitioner shall bear legal interest at the rate of six percent per annum, to be computed from finality of Court’s decision until full payment.

The Court remanded the case to the Labor Arbiter for the computation of the backwages and other monetary awards due to petitioners.

The Court held that only casual employees performing work that is neither necessary nor desirable to the usual business and trade of the employer are required to render at least one year of service to attain regular status. However, employees who perform functions which are necessary and desirable to the usual business and trade of the employer attain regular status from the time of engagement.

In the case at bar, petitioners were hired between 2005 and 2011 and were all dismissed in May 2013.

The Court held that there existed an employer-employee relationship between the GMA and the petitioners hired as camera operators.

The Court noted that there was no showing that at all that the employees, who were paid a meager salary ranging from P750 to P1500 per taping, were hired because of their unique skills, talent and celebrity status not possessed by ordinary employees. It stressed that in ordered to be considered independent contractors and not employees, as claimed by the media network, it must be shown that the petitioners were hired because of their unique skills and talents and that GMA did not exercise control over the means and methods of their work. In this case, GMA provided the equipment used during tapings and assigned supervisors to monitor the petitioners’ performance and guarantee their compliance with company protocols and standards.

The Court also gave weight to petitioners’ arguments that they were regular employees having performed functions that were necessary and desirable to GMA’s usual business as a television and broadcasting company.

Article 295 of the Labor Code identifies four categories of employees, namely: 1) regular; 2) project; 3) seasonal; and 4) casual employees. Article 294 of the same provides security of tenure stating that “In cases of regular employment, the employer shall not terminate the services of an employee except for a just cause or when authorized.”

In this case, GMA repeated engaged petitioners as camera operators for its television programs. As such, petitioners performed activities which are within the regular and usual business of GMA and not identifiably distinct or separate from the other undertakings of the media network. The Court added that it would be absurd to consider the nature of the petitioners’ work of operating cameras as distinct or separate from the business of GMA, a broadcasting company that produces, records and airs television programs.

The Court held that it cannot enable GMA in hiring and rehiring workers solely depending on its fancy, getting rid of them when, in its mind, they are bereft of prior utility, and with a view to circumvent their right to security of tenure.

The Court held that petitioners are regular employees and enjoy the right to security of tenure. Thus, they may only be terminated for just or authorized cause, and after due notice and hearing. It further held that it was incumbent upon GMA to ensure that petitioners’ dismissal were made in keeping with the requirements of substantive and procedural due process. As illegally dismissed employees, petitioners are entitled to reinstatement to their petitions with full backwages computed from the time of dismissal up to the time of actual reinstatement.

The SC Public Information Office will upload the copy of the decision once it is available. (G.R. No. 235315, Paragele, et al. v. GMA Network, Inc., July 13, 2020)