Thursday, February 09, 2012

Agoy vs. NLRC, 252 SCRA 588

Facts: On January 28, 1990, the petitioner was deployed by respondent Eureka to Jubail, Saudi Arabia mistakenly issued in the name of Belleli Saudi Heavy Industries Ltd. as employer, under the category of "Foreman" at a basic monthly salary of US$460.00, which terms were allegedly different from the original contract. Petitioner, having been accepted by the Royal Commission to work only as a "Road Foreman", was later asked by respondent Al-Khodari to sign a new contract at a reduced salary rate of SR1, 200.00 or suffer termination and repatriation. Complainant's refusal to sign the new contract eventually resulted in his dismissal from employment on March 26, 1990. After being paid the remaining balance of his salary, petitioner executed a Final Settlement releasing respondent Al-Khodari from all claims and liabilities. On April 5, 1990, he received a letter dated April 2, 1990 with subject "Termination of Services within the Probation Period" which he was forced to sign and consent to. On April 6, 1990, he was finally repatriated to Manila. Thereafter, he filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with claims for payment of salary for the unexpired portion of his contract, salary differential and damages against respondents Eureka and AlKhodari. Denying the his claim of illegal dismissal, respondent Eureka alleged that petitioner was actually hired by respondent AlKhodari only as "Road Foreman" with a monthly salary of SR1,750.00 equivalent to $460.00 because he failed to qualify as "Road Engineer" during his interview. Moreover, according to respondent Eureka, upon his request, the respondent gave him two chances to qualify for the position of "Road Engineer", both of which he failed. Refusing to work as a "Road Foreman", Al-Khodari terminated his services in accordance with paragraph 14 of the contract stipulating that the employer has the right to dismiss the employee during the probationary period. Respondent agency maintained that petitioner made no objection to his dismissal as evidenced by the Final Settlement that he executed and the Letter of Termination dated April 2, 1990 to which he affixed his signature.

Issue: Whether or not quitclaims shall estop employees from pursuing their claims arising from unfair labor practice.

Held: No. Neither do we subscribe to the conclusion that petitioner voluntarily consented to his dismissal despite his signature in the letter of termination dated April 2, 1990, indicating assent to his termination from service for failing to qualify for the position and releasing private respondents from all claims and liabilities. In our jurisprudence, quitclaims, waivers or releases are looked upon with disfavor, particularly those executed by employees who are inveigled or pressured into signing them by unscrupulous employers seeking to evade their legal responsibilities. The fact that the petitioner signed his notice of termination and failed to make any outright objection thereto did not altogether mean voluntariness on his part. Neither did the execution of a final settlement and receipt of the amounts agreed upon foreclose his right to pursue a legitimate claim for illegal dismissal.

“In labor jurisprudence, it is well established that quitclaims and/or complete releases executed by the employees do not estop them from pursuing their claims arising from the unfair labor practice of the employer.”

The basic reason for this is that such quitclaims and/or complete releases are against public policy and therefore, null and void. The acceptance of termination pay does not divest a laborer of the right to prosecute his employer for unfair labor practice acts.

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