G.R. No. 108996 February 20, 1998
Domingo Abad, et. al., petitioners
Hon. National Labor Relations Commission, Third Division, and Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co., respondents.
Private respondent Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co. is a construction company engaged, among other things, in building offshore marine structures for third parties. Petitioners were hired by private respondent. Private respondent treated petitioners as project workers, claiming that the hiring of workers was based on the availability of project contracts and was thus done on and off. Workers were hired for definite periods of time, with tenure depending on the need for each worker’s particular skills.
Petitioners had been in the service of private respondent for a period of three to ten years until their termination on different dates during the period 1973-1976. They instituted two separate complaints before the NLRC praying for reinstatement. They alleged that they were non-project employees who should have become regular employees after completing one year of service and that, as regular employees, they would have been entitled to benefits extended to regular employees under the company’s CBA as well as to other benefits enjoyed by regular employees.
In 1977, both complaints were archived upon motion of petitioners to hold hearings on the cases in abeyance. They filed the motion because at that time an “identical and analogous” case (Jose Abuan, et al. v. AG&P, docketed as NLRC Case No. RBIV-1746-75) was pending appeal in the Office of the Secretary of Labor. The Abuan case was elevated to the Supreme Court and was finally decided on July 11, 1980 when this Court denied for lack of merit the motion filed by petitioners in that case for reconsideration of the Court’s earlier resolution denying their petition for certiorari.
Petitioners moved for the revival of the cases, and the Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of the petitioners. He held that petitioners were non-project employees. In addition, the Labor Arbiter found that petitioners continued working for private respondent even when there were no major projects to work on. Accordingly, the Labor Arbiter ordered private respondent to reinstate petitioners.
Private respondent appealed to the NLRC which reversed the decision of the Labor Arbiter in a ruling dated November 17, 1992. The NLRC cited the case of Abuan, et al. v. AG&P which it said presented substantially the same facts as these cases. It pointed out that petitioners, like the complainants in the Abuan case, also worked in private respondent’s Poro Point Project with contracts of employment with durations ranging from 15 to 30 days. The contracts specified the projects to which the complainants were assigned. The complainants in Abuan were separated from employment due to the expiration of their employment contracts. The workers in that case were held to be project employees, and so should it be for the workers in these cases.
Petitioners assert that the NLRC should have ruled on the issue of whether or not the workers were regular employees based on the available evidence instead of merely invoking stare decisis.
Whether NLRC is correct in invoking stare decisis and reversing the decision of the Labor Arbiter.
Stare decisis declares that, for the sake of certainty, a conclusion reached in one case should be applied to those which follow, if the facts are substantially the same, even though the parties may be different.
Indeed, the facts and the questions involved in Abuan and the present case are the same. Petitioners themselves did admit as much when they filed their motion to hold hearings in abeyance pending the final determination of the issues in Abuan, to avoid any conflict in the decisions in the two cases.
The workers in Abuan and the petitioners were all hired to work in private respondent’s Poro Point Project, and were attached to private respondent’s Offshore and Marine Services Division. Therein, ¾ the workers in the Abuan case had essentially the same nature of employment as petitioners.
Like the workers in Abuan, petitioners in this case also had contracts with periods ranging from 15 days to 30 days. The contracts of both sets of workers were renewed several times such that the workers spent more than a year working for private respondent. The workers in Abuan as well as the petitioners were separated from the service upon the completion of the projects to which they were assigned. After such separation, they filed separate complaints seeking the same relief: recognition of their regular status, their reinstatement and payment of salaries and benefits due regular workers. Thus the workers in Abuan and petitioners in the present case were similarly situated.
Petitioners herein, like the workers in Abuan, are project employees, assigned to work in a particular construction project. They are workers whose employment has been fixed for a specific project or undertaking the completion or termination of which has been determined at the time of their engagement.
WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED and the decision of the NLRC is AFFIRMED.