G.R. No. 118223 June 26, 1998
PNOC DOCKYARD AND ENGINEERING CORPORATION, Petitioner, vs. THE HONORABLE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, BATAAN REFINERS UNION OF THE PHILIPPINES (BRUP), PNOC-COAL CORPORATION EMPLOYEES' ASSOCIATION (PCC-ELU), KAPISANAN NG MALAYANG MAGGAGAWA-PNOC DOCKYARD AND ENGINEERING CORPORATION (KMM-PDEC), PNOC SHIPPING AND TRANSPORT CORPORATION EMPLOYEES' ASSOCIATION (PSTCEA), ERNESTO M. ESTRELLA, FELIMON PAGLINAWAN, RUFINO ANDAYA, GENEROSO MERCADO, JOHNNY CLARIANES and LEO ORRICA, Respondents.
The Constitution mandates the state to afford full protection to labor. To achieve this goal, technical rules of procedure shall be liberally construed in favor of the working class in accordance with the demands of substantial justice.
This petition for review under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court seeks to set aside the Decision 1 dated August 12, 1993, promulgated by the National Labor Relations Commission 2 (NLRC) in NLRC NCR CC No. 000033-92, the dispositive portion of which reads: 3
Both parties filed their respective motions for reconsideration. Only the motion of herein private respondent was granted in a Decision 4 of the NLRC dated December 9, 1994. The decretal part thereof reads: 5
The present petition likewise impugns the foregoing ruling.
The solicitor general exhaustively presents there factual antecedents of the case: 6
The same Decision further ruled that, where reinstatement was no longer feasible "on account of the sale of any of respondent companies," separation pay shall be awarded, equivalent to "one (1) month's pay for every year of service, a fraction of at least six (6) months considered as one (1) whole year, in addition to the award of backwages."
The parties filed their respective motions for reconsideration. In its December 9, 1994 Decision, the NLRC modified its earlier disposition and ordered herein petitioner to pay its separated employees severance benefit equivalent to "two months for every year of service" in accordance with the company's established business practice. The separate motions of PNOC and its subsidiaries were all denied.
Hence, this recourse 7 filed by the PNOC Dockyard and Engineering Corporation. 8
Petition submits the following grounds for its petition:
The Court's Ruling
The arguments of petitioner do not persuade us. We find no grave abuse of discretion committed by the NLRC in its two challenged Decisions.
At the outset, the Court emphasizes that, under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, its review of decisions or resolutions of quasi-judicial bodies, such as the NLRC, is confined to issues of jurisdiction and grave abuse of discretion. 10 As a rule, judicial review by this Court does not extend to a reevaluation of the factual circumstances of the case. Specialized agencies are presumed to have gained expertise on matters within their respective fields. Thus, their findings of fact, when supported by substantial evidence, are entitled to great respect and are generally rendered conclusive upon this Court, 11 except only upon a clear showing of palpable error or arbitrary disregard of evidence. A thorough examination of the records of this case reveals no reason to justify a reversal of the factual findings of the NLRC.
In resolving that the strike was legal, the labor tribunal took note of the following facts: (1) the notice of strike was filed only after the union members lost hope for the redress of their grievance arising from their exclusion from the P2,500 salary increase; (2) the union members honesty believed that they were discriminated against, since the company practice in the past was to grant salary increases to all employees regardless of whether they were MPTs (managerial, professional, and technical employees) or NMPTs (non-managerial, professional, and technical employees); (3) such discriminatory grant appeared to be an unfair labor practice intended to discourage union membership, since MPTs were non-union members; and (4) the labor unions complied with the legal requirements before going on strike, such as the members' strike vote by secret ballot, the submission of the results thereof to the National Conciliation and Meditation Board (NCMB), the filing of a notice to strike and the observance of the 15-day cooling-off period. Respondent Commission opined that the unions had a reason to regard the salary discrimination, believed to discourage membership in the labor organization, as an unfair labor practice prohibited by Article 248 (e) 12 of the Labor Code.
Thus, although rejecting that PNOC and its subsidiaries were guilty of discrimination, the NLRC reiterated the policy enunciated in several labor cases "that a strike does not automatically carry the stigma of illegality even if no unfair labor practice were committed by the employer. It suffices if such a belief in good faith is entertained by labor as the inducing factor for staging a strike." 13 Indeed, the presumption of legality prevails even if the allegation of unfair labor practice is subsequently found to be untrue, 14 provided that the union and its members believed in good faith in the truth of such averment.
As to the alleged violation of the strike prohibition in their CBA, the NLRC held that there should be no automatic verdict of illegality on the strike conducted. It found support from this Supreme Court ruling 15:
The NLRC noted further that the strike was peaceful and orderly, unmarred by any form of violence or untoward incident.
As to the alleged transgression by respondent unions of Section 4, Rule XIII of the Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code, we agree with Respondent Commission that there actually was substantial compliance thereof. The aforesaid provision reads:
Petitioner argues that the notice of strike was invalid, since (1) it erroneously named PNOC as the employer, which is actually a corporate entity separate and distinct from petitioner; (2) it did not indicate the specific acts which respondent union considered as unfair labor practices; and (3) there was no reasonable attempt or effort on the part of respondent union to amicably settle the alleged labor dispute.
The NLRC ruled, and we agree, that respondent union merely committed an honest mistake, because it appears on record that PNOC has the same set of corporate officers as petitioner; 16 and matters as to wages and other official policies all emanated from PNOC, the mother company. The unrebutted testimony of Leo O. Orrica further attests to the fact that the employees concerned repeatedly brought to the attention of the management the discriminatory grant of salary increase, but the latter failed to address the grievance of the NMPTs or to satisfactorily explain such grant to MPTs only, except to say that it was management's prerogative. 17
Lastly, we agree with the solicitor general that, under the circumstances, there was sufficient indication of the nature and cause of the labor dispute subject of the notice of strike - unfair labor practice in the form of discrimination. The unions merely filled out the standard form furnished for the purpose by the Department of Labor and Employment, and they were indeed not expected to write in detail the history of their dispute. By supplying the information required in the DOLE form and submitting the other explicitly required documents, respondent unions have substantially complied with the law.
A well-recognized norm in labor law is that technical rules of procedure are not to be strictly interpreted and applied in a manner that would defeat substantial justice or be unduly detrimental to the work force. Rules may be relaxed in order to give full meaning to the constitutional mandate of affording full protection to labor. 18 As provided in Article 4 of the Labor Code, "all doubts in the implementation and interpretation of this Code, including its implementing rules and regulations, shall be rendered in favor of labor." 19
In addition, we disagree with petitioner's contention that the strike became automatically illegal upon the labor secretary's certification of the dispute to the NLRC for compulsory arbitration. Basic is the rule that no order, decision or resolution - not even one that is "immediately executory" - is binding and automatically executory unless and until the proper parties are duly notified thereof. 20 The labor Code specifically enjoins that decisions, orders or awards of the labor secretary, the regional director, the NLRC or the labor arbiter are "to [be] separately furnish[ed] immediately [to] the counsels of record and the parties . . . ." 21 This means that in labor cases, both the party and its counsel must be duly served their separate copies of the order, decision or resolution; unlike in ordinary judicial proceedings where notice to counsel is deemed notice to the party. 22
Private respondent precisely impugn the validity of the service of the DOLE certification order dated December 13, 191. They maintain that said order was not validly served on them, since their supposed copy was left only with a security guard at the gate of the office premises of the union. Allegedly, no effort was made to serve the same to an authorized person inside their office. The service of the order upon counsel for the umbrella union FUEL-GAS should not be deemed a valid service upon Respondent KMM-PDEC, which had its own counsel of record, Atty. Tomas Caspe, who appeared before the NCMB. Besides, the law requires service to both the counsel and the parties. It has also been previously held that service to a security guard of the building where the principal holds office is not a valid service. 23 Nevertheless, upon verified information of the existence of the certification order, members of respondent labor unions promptly ended their strike and returned to their jobs.
All in all, we find that the conclusions of Respondent NLRC on the legality of the strike are in accordance with law and jurisprudence. Petitioner has failed to show grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the NLRC.
Having ruled that the strike staged by respondent unions was legal, the subsequent dismissals of their officers due to their staging of said strike cannot be countenanced.
The NLRC correctly observed that, although petitioner averred that the dismissals of individual respondent were due to infractions of company rules and regulations, the alleged infractions actually arose from their participation in the strike. This is crystal clear from the charges leveled against the union officers, such as "active participation in the illegal work stoppage." "disruption of company operations resulting [in] losses." "violation of the 'NO STRIKE' clause of the existing CBA," among others, cited in their similarly worded notices of investigation that eventually led to their dismissals.
Furthermore, such investigations conducted by petitioner were in flagrant disregard of the authority and jurisdiction of Respondent Commission and in defiance of the Memorandum of Agreement 24 with the striking unions, executed upon the order of then acting Labor Secretary Nieves R. Confesor. The issues relating to the strike and lockout were already submitted before the NLRC through the corresponding complaints filed by petitioner itself and private respondents. By filing a formal complaint for illegal strike, it behooved petitioner to desist from undertaking its own investigation on the same matter, concluding upon the illegality of the union activity and dismissing outright the union officers involved. The latter objected, in fact, to the conduct of such investigations precisely due to the pendency before the NLRC of an action based on the same grounds. Instead, petitioner preempted the NLRC from ascertaining the merits of the complaints.
Moreover, the Memorandum of Agreement, other than enjoining the striking workers to return to work, likewise ordered the management to "accept them under the same terms and conditions prevailing prior to the work stoppage," and ruled that the matter of "staggered" wage and holiday pay deductions for the strike period be discussed in the labor-management committee (LMC). In glaring defiance, petitioner arbitrarily undertook to change the work schedule of some employee on the very day they resumed work, aside from deducting in full the wages and holiday pays of the striking employees pertaining to the strike period, even before the LMC could convene.
The actions of petitioner are clearly tainted with abuse of power and with illegality. While we recognize the prerogative of management to regulate all aspects of employment, the power to discipline and terminate an employee's services may not exercised in a despotic or whimsical manner as to erode or render meaningless the constitutional guarantees of security of tenure and due process. 25
Time and again, we have held that the employment status of workers cannot be trifled with, such that their constitutional and statutory rights as well as those arising from valid agreements will, in effect, be defeated or circumvented. No less than the Constitution itself guarantees state protection of labor and assures workers of security of tenure in their employment. 26
The actual and exemplary damages sought by petitioner have no basis in law, much less in equity and fair play. From the foregoing discussion, the strike was staged by respondent unions in the honest belief that petitioner, among the other PNOC subsidiaries involved, was guilty of unfair labor practice due to the discrimination in the grant of salary increase believed to discourage union membership, and to its refusal to bargain collectively on the matter. There was good faith on the part of the striking unions. Thus, they cannot be penalized by imposing upon them payment of damages.
WHEREFORE, the petition is hereby DISMISSED. The assailed Decisions are AFFIRMED.
Davide, Jr., Bellosillo, Vitug and Quisumbing, JJ., concur.
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