Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Monday, July 28, 2008

5 dismissed Hanjin men reinstated

By REY G. PANALIGAN - Manila Bulletin

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the Court of Appeals (CA) decision that upheld the ruling of a labor arbiter ordering the reinstatement of five workers who were illegally dismissed by Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Co. Limited in 2002.

In a decision written by Justice Minita V. Chico- Nazario, the SC said that the five workers are regular employees and not per project workers as claimed by Hanjin.

Ordered reinstated to their previous posts with full backwages from the time the salaries were withheld and up to the time of actual reinstatement were Felicito Ibanez, Carolino Aligwas, Elmer Gacula, Enrique Dagotdot, and Ruel Calda.

"Due to petitioner’s (Hanjin) failure to adduce any evidence showing that respondents were project employees who had been informed of the duration and scope of their employment, the firm was unable to discharge the burden of proof required to establish that respondent’s dismissal was legal and valid," the SC said.

"Furthermore, it is a well-settled doctrine that if doubts exist between the evidence presented by the employer and that by the employee, the scales of justice must be tilted in favor of the latter. For these reasons, respondents are to be considered regular employees of Hanjin," it ruled.

Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, and Ruben T. Reyes of the SC’s third division concurred with the decision.

Records showed that the five workers were hired by Hanjin on different dates from 1992 to 2000 as members of a work pool for the firm’s projects in North Harbor (1992-1994), Manila International Port (1994-1996), Batangas Port (1996-1998), Batangas Pier, and La Mesa Dam.

The firm claimed that the five workers were hired for the construction of the LRT/MRT Line 2 Package 2 and 3 projects. It said that the five workers were dismissed on April 15, 2002 to reduce its manpower.

But records showed that at the time of the dismissal of the five workers, Hanjin’s MRT projects were still in progress and the firm continued to hire employees to fill the positions vacated by the dismissed workers.

The case filed by the five workers before the labor arbiter was decided in their favor.

When the case reached the SC on appeal by Hanjin from the CA decision, the High Court said that "in this case, where no other evidence was offered, the absence of an employment contract puts into serious question whether the employees were properly informed at the onset of their employment status as project employees."

"Absent any proof that the project employees were informed of their status as such, it will be presumed that they are regular employees in accordance with Clause 3.3(a) of Department Order No. 19, Series of 1993."

The SC noted that Hanjin’s "failure to file termination reports with the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) every time a project is completed indicates that respondentworkers were not project employees."

"Employers cannot mislead their employees, whose work is necessary and desirable in the former’s line of business by treating them as though they are part of a work pool from which workers could be continually drawn and then assigned to various projects and thereafter denied regular status at any time by the expedient filing of a Termination Report," the SC said.

"This would constitute a practice in which an employee is unjustly precluded from acquiring security of tenure, contrary to public policy, morals, good customs and public order," it added.

"In view of the foregoing, the instant petition is denied. This court affirms the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals in CAG.R. SP No. 87474, promulgated on 28 July 2005, declaring that the respondents are regular employees who have been illegally dismissed by Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction Company Limited and are therefore entitled to full backwages, separation pay, and litigation expenses," it ruled.

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