MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights on Friday backed a Senate bill seeking to provide enhanced protection, security and benefits for media workers.
“As a country that prides itself with having a free press, ensuring the protection and just compensation of media practitioners is essential in ensuring the protection of the freedom of expression and the right of individuals to access of information,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
Senate President Tito Sotto, who filed Senate Bill 1820 or the Media Workers’ Welfare Act, said the following in its explanatary note:
“While we truly recognize media’s major influence and the important part that it plays in people’s lives; it is unfortunate that the very same people behind it are not receiving the tangible fruits of this recognition which include security of tenure, hazard pay, night shift differential pay, and overtime pay, just to name a few.”
“To this end, legislative measures are put in place to ensure that the rights of all the members of the labor force are protected and their welfare are promoted,” he added.
‘Pandemic emphasizes importance of free press’
According to De Guia, the pandemic underscores the importance of a free media and its role in disseminating timely information to help educate Filipinos on the impacts of COVID-19 and the ways to prevent its transmission.
“The adverse economic effects brought about by the pandemic, however, has led to the enactment of retrenchment policies by several media entities and franchise holders leaving numerous media professionals with no income and support system to weather the negative economic effects of COVID-19,” she warned.
“This problem is compounded by massive layoff of media workers by media entities that practice unfair labor practices that mislabels longtime employees as contractual employees —denying them employee-employer relationship and benefits despite multiple years of successive contract renewals indicating the desirability and necessity of the practitioner’s work,” De Guia added.
In addition to violating labor laws, De Guia noted that denying media workers fair compensation and benefits makes journalists “vulnerable to certain financial obligations that may affect the objectivity of their news reports.”
“In ensuring the protection of labor rights and a free press, the Commission continues to reiterate its support for the protection and promotion of the rights of media workers. Together let us remember that in line with our constitutional rights to freedom of expression and information the protection of our media workers is necessary to ensure a free and fair media,” she said.
The bill’s provisions
The proposed measure’s provisions cover all workers in the field of news media, whether “directly” or “indirectly,” including regular employees, project employees, independent contractors and more.
It also requires regularization after six months of continuous employment.
“The computation of employment time shall be cumulative in cases where the employee is repeatedly engaged for shorter periods by the employer to avoid regularization,” the bill reads.
Apart from the insurance benefits of the media workers of the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), Home Development Mutual Fund (Pagibig Fund) and Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), the measure stipulates that the following should also apply to media workers:
- P200,000 death benefit for media workers who die while working
- up to P200,000 disability benefit for those with “sustained injury,” “total” and “partial” disability (whether permanent or temporary) while working
- P100,000 reimbursement of medical expenses per media worker who is hospitalized or needs medical attendance while working
Compensation worth P500 per day for workers physically reporting in dangerous areas which are strife-torn, distressed, isolated, disease-infested or under a state of calamity or emergency will also be required if the measure passes.
In addition to this, media companies would be required to provide the same workers with basic safety gear such as bulletproof vests, helmets, first-aid kits, face shields and more.
Additional pay for media workers required to render service beyond the normal eight hours a day, or between 10:00 in the evening to 6:00 in the morning the next day, would also be required if the bill passes. — Bella Perez-Rubio with a report from James Relativo