Court orders reinstatement of 51 GMA Network workers

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    THE Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the reinstatement without loss of seniority rights of 51 employees of GMA Network who were either terminated from their work or their talent agreements were not renewed in 2015 for protesting their non-regularization.

    In a decision dated February 19, the appellate court’s Fifteenth Division not only ordered the reinstatement of the employees but also directed that they be paid their full back wages and benefits.

    “Premises considered, the petition for certiorari is hereby granted. The decision dated May 31, 2017 and resolution dated August 31, 2017 issued by public respondent National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) are hereby reversed and set aside,” stated the CA decision penned by Associate Justice Ronaldo Roberto Martin and concurred in by Associate Justices Manuel Barrios and Walter Ong.

    “Accordingly, the Court finds the following employees to be regular employees of respondent GMA and is entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights, full back wages inclusive of allowance, and any and all benefits regular employees of GMA receive computed from the time his or her compensation was withheld up to the time of his or her actual reinstatement,” the court added.

    The case stemmed from the decision of GMA network to fire the workers for joining a rally held in front of its broadcast office in Timog Avenue, Quezon City, as well as for not reporting to work for several days to protest their non-regularization.

    Of the 51 staff, GMA alleged that 15 grossly and habitually neglected their duties by being absent from work.

    In its decision, the CA ruled that an employer-employee relationship existed between the broadcast network and the 51 workers despite the language of their talent agreements that denied they were employees.

    It added that they were in fact regular employees since they were hired even in the absence of any peculiar skill, talent, or celebrity status.

    Likewise, the CA dismissed GMA’s claim of habitual neglect saying that under the Labor Code, the absences of the 15 staff cannot be considered as gross and habitual neglect of their duties.

    “Thus, aside from these particular dates petitioners absented themselves, GMA never presented any other instance when said petitioners committed other unauthorized absences, which negates the very definition of habituality,” it said.

    It also ruled that since the network failed to present evidence to prove that they committed gross and habitual neglect of duties, then “there is no sufficient ground to terminate the concerned petitioners’ employment in this case.”

    The CA said the 35 other employees whose contracts were not renewed could be considered as “constructively dismissed” since the network did not offer them new contracts or agreements until after their existing ones have expired, thereby interrupting the continuity of their services.

    GMA earlier said that the contracts of the 35 were not renewed because of their poor performance, their failure to reply to the network’s offer, and refusal of some of the workers of the offers made.

    “GMA Network should have complied with the procedural due process in terminating its employees especially since petitioners are regular employees,” the CA said.

    Meanwhile, one other employee, Jevi Bilaos, was considered a regular employee only from March to September 2014 because he voluntarily resigned and as such, his back wages would only cover the said period.

    As to the amount of back wages the 51 employees will receive, the CA remanded the issue to the NLRC for proper computation.

    Last year, the CA also declared close to 100 GMA Network talents as regular employees.