Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Millares vs. NLRC [G.R. No. 110524 July 29, 2002]

FactsDouglas Millares was employed by ESSO International through its local manning agency, Trans-Global, in 1968 as a machinist. In 1975, he was promoted as Chief Engineer which position he occupied until he opted to retire in 1989. In 1989, petitioner Millares filed a leave of absence and applied for optional retirement plan under the Consecutive Enlistment Incentive Plan (CEIP) considering that he had already rendered more than twenty years of continuous service. Esso International denied Millares’ request for optional retirement on the following grounds, to wit: 

1) he was employed on a contractual basis 

2) his contract of enlistment (COE) did not provide for retirement before the age of sixty years; 

3) he did not comply with the requirement for claiming benefits under the CEIP, i.e., to submit a written advice to the company of his intention to terminate his employment within thirty days from his last disembarkation date. 

Subsequently, after failing to return to work after the expiration of his leave of absence, Millares was dropped from the roster of crew members effective September 1, 1989. On the other hand, petitioner Lagda was employed by Esso International as wiper/oiler in 1969. He was promoted as Chief Engineer in 1980, a position he continued to occupy until his last COE expired in 1989. In 1989, Lagda likewise filed a leave of absence and applied to avail of the optional early retirement plan in view of his twenty years continuous service in the company. Trans-global similarly denied Lagda’s request for availment of the optional early retirement scheme on the same grounds upon which Millares request was denied. Unable to return for contractual sea service after his leave of absence expire, Lagda was also dropped from the roster of crew members effective September 1, 1989. 

Millares and Lagda filed a complaint-affidavit for illegal dismissal and non-payment of employee benefits against private respondents Esso International and Trans-Global before the POEA. The POEA rendered a decision dismissing the complaint for lack of merit. On appeal, NLRC affirmed the decision of the POEA dismissing the complaint. NLRC rationcinated that Millares and Lagda, as seamen and overseas contract workers are not covered by the term “regular employment” as defined under Article 280 of the Labor Code. The POEA, which is tasked with protecting the rights of the Filipino workers for overseas employment to fair and equitable recruitment and employment practices and to ensure their welfare, prescribes a standard employment contract for seamen on board ocean-going vessels for a fixed period but in no case to exceed twelve months. 

IssueWhether or not seafarers are considered regular employees under Article 280 of the Labor Code 

HeldNo, It is for the mutual interest of both the seafarer and the employer why the employment status must be contractual only or for a certain period of time. Quoting Brent School Inc. v. Zamora, 1990, and Pablo Coyoca v. NLRC, 1995, the Supreme Court ruled that seafarers are considered contractual employees. They can not be considered as regular employees under Article 280 of the Labor Code. Their employment is governed by the contracts they sign everytime they are rehired and their employment is terminated when the contract expires. Their employment is contractually fixed for a certain period of time. They fall under the exception of Article 280 whose employment has been fixed for a specific project or undertaking the completion or termination of which has been determined at the time of engagement of the employee or where the work or services to be performed is seasonal in nature and the employment is for the duration of the season. 

As ruled in Brent case, there are certain forms of employment which also require the performance of usual and desirable functions and which exceed one year but do not necessarily attain regular employment status under Article 280. Overseas workers including seafarers fall under this type of employment which are governed by the mutual agreements of the parties. And as stated in the Coyoca case, Filipino seamen are governed by the Rules and Regulations of the POEA. The Standard Employment Contract governing the employment of All Filipino seamen on Board Ocean-Going Vessels of the POEA, particularly in Part I, Sec. C specifically provides that the contract of seamen shall be for a fixed period. And in no case should the contract of seamen be longer than 12 months. Moreover, the Court held that it is an accepted maritime industry practice that employment of seafarers are for a fixed period only. Constrained by the nature of their employment which is quite peculiar and unique in itself, it is for the mutual interest of both the seafarer and the employer why the employment status must be contractual only or for a certain period of time. Seafarers spend most of their time at sea and understandably, they can not stay for a long and an indefinite period of time at sea. Limited access to shore society during the employment will have an adverse impact on the seafarer. The national, cultural and lingual diversity among the crew during the COE is a reality that necessitates the limitation of its period. 


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