CREATIVITY is rarely talked about in this country as labor, as work, and yet it is the lifeblood of any cultural product, from the TV shows we watch every day, the newspapers and magazines we subscribe to, the websites we navigate and engage with, the art that we celebrate. There is no lack of creativity in this country, which is not to talk about originality, as it is to talk about laborious work, the kind that’s exhausting on both body and mind, the kind that is physical and emotional, because it is not just about using a set of physical skills but more importantly using a skill set that is about imagination and vision.
The idea of “talent,” the fact that cultural workers are transformed into – have come to be called – “talents,” is telling of their function in any cultural and media organization. They are hired based on the skill set they offer, and it is a skill set that is creative and artistic. In the ideal world, they would be respected for this contribution to the cultural organization. That respect would translate to just wages and benefits.
That is not quite true in this country.
The Kapuso’s struggle
In the three years or so that I was writing for GMA News Online, I thought I had all the luck in the world. I had an editor, Howie Severino, who respected me enough as writer to actually negotiate with me about editing my writing. Soon after I started as freelance contributor, a piece on Charice Pempengco gathered record online hits, and my fee per article (per word actually) was raised. It was good enough for freelancer me, enough to feel bad when it didn’t work out with a new editor.
Certainly I felt neglected and uncared for by the institution I loyally served for three years, but it was clear to me as freelancer that I had no right to demand anything from them.
I was not even contractual after all; I was less than that. I was a contributor who had no contract with the website, no sense at all of what role I played in that bigger cultural organization. And certainly so many before me have, and after me will, fall within the cracks of this employer-freelancer relationship – which is really no relationship at all.
It’s totally different for those workers called “talents” now taking a stand – and some of them winning – against GMA 7’s insistence that they have no employer-employee relationship going, mere contractual workers as these employees are. It’s really quite old hat, and would be familiar to anyone who has ever worked on a contractual basis with an employer: you don’t get social security and health benefits, you don’t get bonuses and allowances. You’re at the mercy of your employer as far as being renewed is concerned, and there are many-an-employer who will not renew no matter how good you are at your job – it assures them that you won’t have any right to demand regularization.
It’s because they also very well know that under the law, employment of six months should be equal to regularization, which would mean being eligible for benefits and bonuses.
That this kind of crises is what media workers face is ironic in a station like GMA 7 that has the word heart as part of its network identity. There is no irony when one thinks of the walang kinikilingan, walang pinoprotektahan as the network’s slogan. In this sense, its News and Public Affairs bigwigs also don’t seem to be ones to take a stand for their producers and cameramen, researchers and writers, no matter the injustice being done against them. It’s layer upon layer of sadness for these workers really, with no certain light at the end of the tunnel.
The Kapatid’s plight
An anonymous open letter to Manny V. Pangilinan has also recently surfaced via the buhaymedia.wordpress.com website. Here, a collective voice “kami” talks about deciding to write MVP on the premise that he might not know about the conditions of their contractual employment with TV5, “The Happy Network.”
The plight of the Kapatid workers are really no different from their Kapuso counterparts. They sign three-month contracts, without benefits, and have been employed by the network in this way for as long as four to five years. They talk about being the ones who man the fort at the network, but they are not eligible for overtime or holiday pay, night deferential or 13th month pay.
On Radyo Singko they hear Atty. Mel Sta. Maria advising contractual workers about their rights to bonuses and benefits. The irony is not lost on these TV5 talents. The reality of getting fired for even writing this letter is not lost on them either: they know it would be so easy for their immediate superiors to decide not to renew their contracts, for no reason at all.
Talent as labor
The crises of contractual labor is one that’s not limited to media enterprises, and certainly not to cultural institutions. It is in the academe, in our factories and manufacturing, in supermarkets, in every institution where it is capital and profit that dictate how workers are to be treated. It’s a systemic problem in this country, one that we would like to deny is a problem at all. After all, when the status quo lives off the illusion that it is okay to treat workers this way, then all of this is treated like grist for the mill, where we accept that the ones who work hardest and are least paid are also the most neglected and easily dismissed.
But we’d like to think that media organizations that stand for justice and fairness do not fall into the trap of treating its workers this way. That as the sector that provides us all with an alternative way of viewing the world, here is where we also see how workers are treated better and differently, because they are valued and respected for their skills.
Elsewhere in the world, media organization and creative sector bigwigs and high profile media personalities would be taking a stand, going on a boycott, for these contractual workers. Even fictional Will McAvoy would know to take a stand against this injustice.
Here in the Philippines all we have is radio silence. How’s that for fact being far far worse than fiction?