Thursday, February 02, 2012

Davao Fruits Corporation vs. Associated Labor Unions (ALU), August 24, 1993

Facts: On December 28, 1982 respondent Associated Labor Unions (ALU), for and in behalf of all the rank-and-file workers and employees of petitioner, filed a complaint (NLRC Case No. 1791-MC-XI-82) before the Ministry of Labor and Employment, Regional Arbitration Branch XI, Davao City, against petitioner, for "Payment of the Thirteenth-Month Pay Differentials." Respondent ALU sought to recover from petitioner the thirteenth month pay differential for 1982 of its rank-and-file employees, equivalent to their sick, vacation and maternity leaves, premium for work done on rest days and special holidays, and pay for regular holidays which petitioner, allegedly in disregard of company practice since 1975, excluded from the computation of the thirteenth month pay for 1982.

In its answer, petitioner claimed that it erroneously included items subject of the complaint in the computation of the thirteenth month pay for the years prior to 1982, upon a doubtful and difficult question of law. According to petitioner, this mistake was discovered only in 1981 after the promulgation of the Supreme Court decision in the case of San Miguel Corporation v. Inciong (103 SCRA 139).

A decision was rendered on March 7, 1984 favoring ALU. That ordered Davao Fruits Corporation to pay the 1982 — 13th month pay differential to all its rank-and-file workers/employees herein represented by complainant Union. Petitioner appealed the decision of the Labor Arbiter to the NLRC, which affirmed the said decision accordingly dismissed the appeal for lack of merit. Petitioner elevated the matter to the Supreme Court.

Issues:

(1) Whether or not the computation of the thirteenth month pay given by employers to their employees under P.D. No. 851, payments for sick, vacation and maternity leaves, premiums for work done on rest days and special holidays, and pay for regular holidays may be excluded in the computation and payment thereof, regardless of long-standing company practice

(2) Whether or not the petitioner may invoke the principle of solution indebiti

Held:
(1) The "Supplementary Rules and Regulations Implementing P.D. No. 851," which put to rest all doubts in the computation of the thirteenth month pay, was issued by the Secretary of Labor as early as January 16, 1976, barely one month after the effectivity of P.D. No. 851 and its Implementing Rules. And yet, petitioner computed and paid the thirteenth month pay, without excluding the subject items therein until 1981. Petitioner continued its practice in December 1981, after promulgation of the afore-quoted San Miguel decision on February 24, 1981, when petitioner purportedly "discovered" its mistake. From 1975 to 1981, petitioner had freely, voluntarily and continuously included in the computation of its employees' thirteenth month pay, the payments for sick, vacation and maternity leaves, premiums for work done on rest days and special holidays, and pay for regular holidays. The considerable length of time the questioned items had been included by petitioner indicates a unilateral and voluntary act on its part, sufficient in itself to negate any claim of mistake.

A company practice favorable to the employees had indeed been established and the payments made pursuant thereto, ripened into benefits enjoyed by them. And any benefit and supplement being enjoyed by the employees cannot be reduced, diminished, discontinued or eliminated by the employer, by virtue of Section 10 of the Rules and Regulations Implementing P.D. No. 851, and Article 100 of the labor of the Philippines, which prohibit the diminution or elimination by the employer of the employees' existing benefits (Tiangco v. Leogardo, Jr., 122 SCRA 267, [1983]).

(2) Petitioner cannot invoke the principle of solutio indebiti which as a civil law concept that is not applicable in Labor Law. Besides, in solutio indebiti, the obligee is required to return to the obligor whatever he received from the latter (Civil Code of the Philippines, Arts. 2154 and 2155). Petitioner in the instant case, does not demand the return of what it paid respondent ALU from 1975 until 1981; it merely wants to "rectify" the error it made over these years by excluding unilaterally from the thirteenth month pay in 1982 the items subject of litigation. Solutio indebiti, therefore, is not applicable to the instant case. 


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