A LONG time ago, in one of many conversations I would have with friends who were writing freelance for various magazines and publications, and sharing horror stories about missed checks and unpaid articles, I articulated how writers should come together and list down and call out these publications. The better to protect each other and begin the process of empowering ourselves in the face of creative abuse and exploitation.
It is at the heart of my continued insistence that there is a need for a real artists union in this country. One that protects member-writers, artists, illustrators, editors, musicians from abusive contractual employers, at the same time that it assures these contractors that employing union-artists will mean getting the service they ask for.
It is only in this country that the union is a scary thing. And it is not just scary for employers. In that conversation where I suggested coming up with a list of publications that do not pay on time, if at all, I was told: but then you’d be that person who squeals and you will never get hired again.
Fear is an insidious thing.
Silence as consent
It was in May of this year when I heard about the crisis over at GMA via employees who put up black profile pics on Facebook. Details were flimsy, about how GMA was requiring that contractual employees , called “talents,” provide receipts in order to get their checks for services rendered to the network (via medianewser.com, 3 May).
I thought it absurd: if you’re a contractual employee why would you need to issue receipts to get your payment? Isn’t your payment provided for within your contract, whatever the duration might be? And aren’t you in fact employee still, no matter that your existence within the institution is limited to a contract?
The social media campaign quieted down without any mainstream coverage, and certainly that had everything to do with fear as well: why would any other media company discuss this issue when it opens them up as well to queries about their own systems of employment?
Over on buhaymedia.wordpress.com’s collected articles on the GMA case though, one realizes that the fight has continued since, with the network expectedly trying – and failing – to appease its talents.
What GMA was willing to give its talents was a Project Employment Contract (PEC). Via medianewser.com (Nov 22): “Under this, talents of the network will have similar benefits as that of regular employees. However, there’s a duration weighted in the said contract which states its start and end date. Also, talents will have to wait for a period of 3 months without pay and no guarantee of another show. Other benefits such as monthly rice subsidies and medicard are also exclusive only to executive producers.”
It is clear why the talents have said no to the PEC. They are far from being promised any security, nor all the benefits they have a right to. But it could only get worse. According to a report on pep.ph (Nov 20) and various posts on buhaymedia, some of those who have refused to sign on for GMA’s PEC are being terminated from their jobs; some have been told that not signing on for the PEC will mean termination by year-end.
The silence of the on-cam network bigwigs on this issue is deafening.
Refuse the silence
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.