Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Poseidon Fishing vs. NLRC

Facts: Poseidon Fishing is a company engaged in the deep-sea fishing industry. One of its boat crew was private respondent Estoquia. De Jesus is the manager of Poseidon Fishing. Estoquia was employed by Poseidon in Jan 1988 as Chief Mate. After five years, he was promoted to Boat Captain. In 1999 Estoquia was demoted without reason to Radio Operator. As Radio Operator, he monitored daily activities in their office and recorded in the duty logbook the names of the callers and time of their calls. 

On July 3, 2000 Estoquia failed to record a 7:25 a.m. call in one of the logbooks. However, he was able to record the same in the other logbook. When he reviewed the two logbooks, he noticed that he wasn’t able to record the said call in one of the logbooks so he immediately recorded it after the 7:30 a.m. entry. The next morning de Jesus detected the entry error in the logbook. She asked Estoquia to prepare an incident report to explain the reason for the said oversight. That same day, Poseidon’s secretary summoned Estoquia to get his separation pay. Estoquia refused to accept it as he believed he did nothing illegal to warrant his immediate discharge. 

Estoquia filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with the LA. Poseidon and de Jesus asserted that Estoquia was a contractual or casual employee; when he was engaged, it was made clear to him that he was being employed only on a “por viaje” (per trip) basis and that his employment would be terminated at the end of the trip for which he was being hired per the “Kasunduan” with him. Petitioners also asserted that deep-sea fishing is a seasonal industry as catching of fish could only be undertaken for a limited duration or seasonal within a given year and thus Estoquia was a seasonal or project employee. 

LA decided in favor of Estoquia, holding that Estoquia became a regular employee after a year and had attained tenurial security. It ordered Poseidon to reinstate him and pay full back wages. NLRC modified the decision, deducting from Estoquia’s back wages as it was his negligence in the performance of his work that brought about his termination. CA dismissed the petition for certiorari. 

Issue: Whether or not Estoquia was a seasonal or project employee 

Held: NO. The test to determine whether one is a “project employee” is W/N the said employee was assigned to carry out a specific project or undertaking, the duration and scope of which were specified at the time the employee was engaged for that project. Petitioners have not shown that Estoquia was informed that he will be assigned to a specific project or undertaking. Neither has it been established that he was informed of the duration and scope of such project or undertaking at the time of their engagement. Maraguinot Jr. v. National Labor Relations Commission established that once a project or work pool employee has been (1) continuously (vs. intermittently) re-hired by the same employer for the same tasks or nature of tasks; and (2) these tasks are vital, necessary and indispensable to the usual business or trade of the employer, the employee must be deemed a regular employee. 

In Brent School Inc. v. Zamora 181 SCRA 702, the Court ruled that fixed-term employment contracts are recognized as valid under the law despite Art 280 of the LC. However, if circumstances show that periods have been imposed to preclude acquisition of tenurial security by the employee, the fixed-term contract should be disregarded for being contrary to public policy. In the case at bar, the “Kasunduan” has such an objective: to frustrate the security of tenure of Estoquia. Petitioners’ intent to evade the application of Art 280 is unmistakable. In a span of 12 years, Estoquia worked for Poseidon first as a Chief Mate, then Boat Captain, and later as Radio Operator. His job was directly related to the deep-sea fishing business of Poseidon. His work was necessary and important to the business of his employer. Inasmuch as Estoquia’s functions are no doubt “usually necessary or desirable in the usual business or trade” of Poseidon and he was hired continuously for 12 years for the same nature of tasks, we are constrained to say that he belongs to the ilk of regular employee. 

Being one, private respondent’s dismissal without valid cause was illegal. And, where illegal dismissal is proven, the worker is entitled to back wages and other similar benefits without deductions or conditions. 

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