Thursday , June 21, 2018

Almirante: Not project but regular employees

PETITIONERS Isidro Quebral and eight others filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with prayer for reinstatement and money claims against respondents Angbus Construction Inc. (Angbus) and Angelo Bustamante.

They claimed that they were regular employees engaged to perform tasks necessary and desirable to the business and have rendered services to the latter’s construction business for several years.

Respondents maintained that petitioners were first employed by Angelfe Management and Consultancy (Angelfe) for one project only. Two or three years after the completion of the Angelfe project, they were then hired by respondents, which is a separate and distinct entity from the former. They were hired only for two project employment contracts – one each with Angelfe and Angbus. A long period between the first project employment and the other intervened, which meant that petitioners were not rehired repeatedly and continuously. What is the status of petitioners’ employment?

Ruling: Regular employees.

To safeguard the rights of workers against the arbitrary use of the word “project”, jurisprudence provides that employers claiming that their workers are project-based employees have the burden to prove that these two requisites concur: the employees were assigned to carry out a specific project or undertaking; and the duration and scope of which were specified at the time they were engaged for such project.

In this case, Angbus did not state the specific project or undertaking assigned to petitioners. As to the second requisite, not only was Angbus unable to produce petitioners’ employment contracts, it also failed to present other evidence to show that it informed petitioners of the duration and scope of their work.

The Court previously ruled that although the absence of a written contract does not grant regular status to the employees, it is evidence that they were informed of the duration and scope of their work and their status as project employees at the start of their engagement. When no other evidence is offered, the absence of employment contracts raises a serious question of whether the employees were sufficiently apprised at the start of their employment of their status as project employees. Absent such proof, it is presumed that they are regular employees and can only be dismissed for just or authorized causes upon compliance with procedural due process.

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The Court further observes that the CA placed unwarranted emphasis on the DOLE Reports or termination reports submitted by Angbus as basis to rule that petitioners were project employees.

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It is clear that the submission of the termination report to the Dole “may be considered” only as an indicator of project employment. By the provision’s tenor, the submission of this report, by and of itself, is not conclusive to confirm the status of the terminated employees as project employees, especially when there is a glaring absence of evidence to prove that petitioners were assigned to carry out a specific project or undertaking, and that they were informed of the duration and scope of their supposed project engagement.

Since Angbus failed to prove that petitioners were project employees, the NLRC correctly ruled that they should be considered regular employees. The termination of employment should have been for a just or authorized cause, the lack of which amounts to illegal dismissal. (Perlas-Bernabe, J., SC 1st Division, Isidro Quebral vs. Angbus Construction, Inc. And Angelo Bustamante, G.R. No. 221897, November 07, 2016).