Leaders of ABS-CBN unions said they were staying strong for co-workers and families as layoffs loomed if the media giant failed to secure a new franchise from Congress.

The Inquirer reached out to the heads of the ABS-CBN Supervisory Employees Union and ABS-CBN Rank and File Union, whose members are among the company’s 11,000 workers.

Their main worry these days is keeping their jobs to a point that they were preparing, too, to negotiate with management over concessions like pay and benefit cuts.

At home, they face another challenge—shielding their families from the uncertainties of a future being menaced by coronavirus.

“We still try to laugh. We try to show our families that we are strong,” said Raul B. Asis, president of the ABS-CBN Supervisory Employees’ Union, in an interview.

“But inside, this is a very painful time for us. I think it’s the same for all my fellow workers,” Asis said.

Asis, who oversees studio operations in ABS-CBN’s headquarters in Quezon City, has been with the company for 26 years.

He said layoffs would cut off workers’ main source of income but it would be deadlier for union members relying on financial support from the company for serious ailments.

Ultimately, Asis said he hoped that lawmakers will look beyond politics and see livelihoods at stake.

“Our understanding is the government provides jobs—not take these away,” he said.

“They say in news there are 11,000 jobs being threatened. That’s not just 11,000 people. I have five children and they’re all still studying,” Asis added.

ABS-CBN has been incurring heavy financial losses since its main television and radio business was shuttered by the Duterte administration last May 5.

It needs a new franchise to continue broadcasting.

At a Senate hearing on Tuesday (May 19), company CEO Carlo Katigbak said management was committed to retain all employees and provide full benefits for at least three months.

But the continued closure of its broadcast business meant the company might start a “retrenchment process” by August.

Generoso A. Villanueva Jr., president of the ABS-CBN Rank and File Union, said members are anxious about their jobs.

“Some of our members are over 40 years old. It’s hard to find a new job at that age,” Villanueva said.

“The broadcast industry is also saturated now. We are hearing of other broadcast companies cutting their workforce,” he said.

Both union leaders said all options are on the table when negotiating with ABS-CBN’s management.

“Our position is ABS-CBN doesn’t remove any worker,” said Asis. He said union members were also prepared to help the company through its difficulties.

“We’re open to not filing for overtime and salary reductions,” said Asis.

“We just want to keep working,” he said.

Villanueva, who has been with ABS-CBN for 23 years, said union members are also prepared to forgo any pay increase this year and use up their paid leaves.

Prospects remain challenging for the company with the loss of its main source of earnings.

Aside from continuing to incur expenses, like payroll, ABS-CBN has over P21 billion in long-term debts.

Over the past two weeks, ABS-CBN has ramped up its presence on internet platforms and social media to deliver entertainment and news.

But internet reach is limited because a large part of the country is still without access to reliable internet connection compared to free-to-air TV and radio.

Internet costs are also prohibitive for many households, limiting online audience.

Data from third-party research firm Kantar Media showed TV with a monthly usage of 95 percent versus 55 percent for the internet.

On Tuesday, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano said the House of Representatives will be ready to decide on ABS-CBN’s franchise by July or August.

Efforts to renew the franchise had languished for years in Congress amid threats by President Rodrigo Duterte to shut the network down.

Villanueva said he remained optimistic that ABS-CBN will be allowed to continue broadcasts.

“I believe our viewers and even the government understand the role ABS-CBN plays for ordinary Filipinos and even the economy,” he said.

Edited by TSB


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