ABS-CBN workers deemed 'still employed' despite network shutdown —DOLE

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ABS-CBN workers deemed 'still employed' despite network shutdown �DOLE
File photo shows the logo of the Department of Labor and Employment.
File photo

MANILA, Philippines — ABS-CBN Corp. workers should “continue to be employed” by the company despite the network shutting down it main television and radio channels on Tuesday following government orders.

“The issuance of the cease and desist order does not have an immediate impact on the employment of its employees,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Employees shall continue to be employed. They remain entitled to all labor standards,” he added.

The broadcast giant stopped airing programs on its main free TV and radio channels on Tuesday night, a move meant to abide with a surprise cease and desist order from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) early in the day.

NTC predicated its order on the expiration of ABS-CBN’s 25-year legislative franchise the day before, a scenario that only happened after legislators sat on the network’s franchise renewal contained in a bill filed as early as 2016.

According to regulatory filings, ABS-CBN has around 11,000 employees, but this include people working in subsidiaries including ABS-CBN Convergence Inc. whose franchise also expired last March but interestingly, was granted by NTC provisional authority to operate.

That said, it remains unclear how many people would end up jobless by the NTC’s ruling. Workers say despite the shutdown, ABS-CBN announced there will be no retrenchment of workers over the next three months. 

Even then, the labor department said ABS-CBN workers that would be displaced may not qualify for government cash aid being distributed to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes the agency’s COVID-19 adjustment program (CAMP) which was already closed for applications last April 15 due to fund shortage.

Around 650,000 workers were poised to benefit from CAMP through a one-time P5,000 aid per worker.  “CAMP officially closed last April 15. Besides, (their) displacement is not because of COVID-19,” Labor Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay said in a Viber message.

SSS jobless benefits 

As it is, Tutay also said the labor agency “doesn’t have cash assistance program” to assist furloughed workers in normal times, where displaced ABS-CBN workers could qualify. The agency's assistance programs are only offered “during economic downturn, calamity and emergency situations.” “What we have are livelihood, emergency employment and employment facilitation (programs),” she added.

The last resort for ABS-CBN workers that may get laid off would be to apply for a lump-sum jobless benefit from the Social Security System. The assistance from the pension fund will grant them an amount equivalent to an employee's average maximum monthly salary credit which can go up to P20,000 per worker.

But this would also need some documentation from the company. “Once we receive the establishment termination report and request for certification then DOLE regional offices will issue the certification. This is prerequisite to the availment of SSS unemployment benefits,” Tutay explained.

For his part, Bello remained optimistic that ABS-CBN’s woes would be resolved and that the Lopez-led firm would not have to let go any of its employees.

“Paramount is the protection of the rights and the promotion of the welfare of all workers…,” he said.

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