Gold City Integrated Port Service, Inc (INPORT) vs. NLRC

Posted: May 1, 2015 in case digests, labor relations
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Gold City Integrated Port Service, Inc (INPORT) vs. NLRC

GR No. 103560

July 6, 1995

Facts: Petitioner’s employees stopped working and gathered in a mass action to express their grievances regarding wages, thirteenth month pay and hazard pay. Said employees were all members of the Macajalar Labor Union — Federation of Free Workers (MLU-FFW) with whom petitioner had an existing collective bargaining agreement.

Petitioner was engaged in stevedoring and arrastre services at the port of Cagayan de Oro. The strike paralyzed operations at said port.

The strikers filed individual notices of strike (“Kaugalingon nga Declarasyon sa Pag-Welga”) with the then Ministry of Labor and Employment.

With the failure of conciliation conferences between petitioner and the strikers, INPORT filed a complaint before the Labor Arbiter for Illegal Strike with prayer for a restraining order/preliminary injunction.

The National Labor Relations Commission issued a temporary restraining order. Thereafter, majority of the strikers returned to work, leaving herein private respondents who continued their protest.

For not having complied with the formal requirements in Article 264 of the Labor Code, 3 the strike staged by petitioner’s workers on April 30, 1985 was found by the Labor Arbiter to be illegal. 4 The workers who participated in the illegal strike did not, however, lose their employment, since there was no evidence that they participated in illegal acts. After noting that petitioner accepted the other striking employees back to work, the Labor Arbiter held that the private respondents should similarly be allowed to return to work without having to undergo the required screening to be undertaken by their union (MLU-FFW).

As regards the six private respondents who were union officers, the Labor Arbiter ruled that they could not have possibly been “duped or tricked” into signing the strike notice for they were active participants in the conciliation meetings and were thus fully aware of what was going on. Hence, said union officers should be accepted back to work after seeking reconsideration from herein petitioner. 5

The NLRC affirmed with modification 8 the Arbiter’s decision. It held that the concerted action by the workers was more of a “protest action” than a strike. Private respondents, including the six union officers, should also be allowed to work unconditionally to avoid discrimination. However, in view of the strained relations between the parties, separation pay was awarded in lieu of reinstatement.

Upon petitioner’s motion for reconsideration, public respondent modified the above resolution.

The Commission ruled that since private respondents were not actually terminated from service, there was no basis for reinstatement. However, it awarded six months’ salary as separation pay or financial assistance in the nature of “equitable relief.” The award for backwages was also deleted for lack of factual and legal basis. In lieu of backwages, compensation equivalent to P1,000.00 was given.

Issue: Whether separation pay and backwages be awarded by public respondent NLRC to participants of an illegal strike?

Held:  Reinstatement and backwages or, if no longer feasible, separation pay, can only be granted if sufficient bases exist under the law, particularly after a showing of illegal dismissal. However, while the union members may thus be entitled under the law to be reinstated or to receive separation pay, their expulsion from the union in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement renders the same impossible.

Ratio: A strike, considered as the most effective weapon of labor, 13 is defined as any temporary stoppage of work by the concerted action of employees as a result of an industrial or labor dispute. 14 A labor dispute includes any controversy or matter concerning terms or conditions of employment or the association or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing or arranging the terms and conditions of employment, regardless of whether or not the disputants stand in the proximate relation of employers and employees. 15

Private respondents and their co-workers stopped working and held the mass action on April 30, 1985 to press for their wages and other benefits. What transpired then was clearly a strike, for the cessation of work by concerted action resulted from a labor dispute.

The complaint before the Labor Arbiter involved the legality of said strike. The Arbiter correctly ruled that the strike was illegal for failure to comply with the requirements of Article 264 (now Article 263) paragraphs (c) and (f) of the Labor Code. 16

The individual notices of strike filed by the workers did not conform to the notice required by the law to be filed since they were represented by a union (MLU-FFW) which even had an existing collective bargaining agreement with INPORT.

Neither did the striking workers observe the strike vote by secret ballot, cooling-off period and reporting requirements.

A union officer who knowingly participates in an illegal strike and any worker or union officer who knowingly participates in the commission of illegal acts during a strike may be declared to have lost their employment status. 20 An ordinary striking worker cannot be terminated for mere participation in an illegal strike. There must be proof that he committed illegal acts during a strike. A union officer, on the other hand, may be terminated from work when he knowingly participates in an illegal strike, and like other workers, when he commits an illegal act during a strike.

In the case at bench, INPORT accepted the majority of the striking workers, including union officers, back to work. Private respondents were left to continue with the strike after they refused to submit to the “screening” required by the company.

Under Article 264 of the Labor Code, a worker merely participating in an illegal strike may not be terminated from his employment. It is only when he commits illegal acts during a strike that he may be declared to have lost his employment status. Since there appears no proof that these union members committed illegal acts during the strike, they cannot be dismissed. The striking union members among private respondents are thus entitled to reinstatement, there being no just cause for their dismissal.

However, considering that a decade has already lapsed from the time the disputed strike occurred, we find that to award separation pay in lieu of reinstatement would be more practical and appropriate.

No backwages will be awarded to private respondent-union members as a penalty for their participation in the illegal strike. Their continued participation in said strike, even after most of their co-workers had returned to work, can hardly be rewarded by such an award.

The fate of private respondent-union officers is different. Their insistence on unconditional reinstatement or separation pay and backwages is unwarranted and unjustified. For knowingly participating in an illegal strike, the law mandates that a union officer may be terminated from employment. 34

Notwithstanding the fact that INPORT previously accepted other union officers and that the screening required by it was uncalled for, still it cannot be gainsaid that it possessed the right and prerogative to terminate the union officers from service. The law, in using the word may, grants the employer the option of declaring a union officer who participated in an illegal strike as having lost his employment. 35

Moreover, an illegal strike which, more often than not, brings about unnecessary economic disruption and chaos in the workplace should not be countenanced by a relaxation of the sanctions prescribed by law.

The union officers are, therefore, not entitled to any relief.

Dispositive: WHEREFORE, from the foregoing premises, the petition in G.R. No. 103560 (“Gold City Integrated Port Service Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, et al.”) is GRANTED. One month salary for each year of service until 1985 is awarded to private respondents who were not union officers as separation pay. The petition in G.R. No. 103599 (“Adelo Ebuna, et al. v. National Labor Relations Commission, et al.”) is DISMISSED for lack of merit. No costs.

LABREL CASE DIGEST POOL / ATTORNEY JHONELLE ESTRADA / MONDAYS / 5:30 PM TO 8:30 PM / NEW ERA UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF LAW

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