PETITIONER Powerhouse Staffbuilders International Inc. (Powerhouse), hired respondents Romelia Rey and 13 others as operators for its foreign principal, Catcher Technical Co. Ltd./Catcher Industrial Co. Ltd. (Catcher), based in Taiwan, each with a monthly salary of NT$15,840.00 for a duration of two years, commencing upon their arrival.
They were deployed on June 2, 2000. Sometime in February 2001, Catcher informed them that they would be reducing their working days due to low orders and financial difficulties. They were repatriated to the Philippines on March 11, 2001.
On March 22, 2001, respondents filed separate complaints for illegal dismissal, refund of placement fees, moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees against Powerhouse and Catcher. They alleged that on March 2, 2001, Catcher informed them that they would all be repatriated. Initially, they refused, but eventually gave in because Catcher stopped providing them with food and they had to live by donations from sympathetic friends and the church.
Powerhouse maintained that respondents voluntarily gave up their jobs following their rejection of their proposal to reduce their working days.
The Labor Arbiter (LA), the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the Court of Appeals (CA), all found for respondents. Did they err?
Here, there is no reason to overturn the factual findings of the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC and the CA, all of which have unanimously declared that respondent employees were made to resign against their will after the foreign principal, Catcher, stopped providing them food for their subsistence as early as March 2, 2001.
The filing of complaints for illegal dismissal immediately after repatriation belies the claim that respondent employees voluntarily chose to be separated and repatriated. Voluntary repatriation, much like resignation, is inconsistent with the filing of complaints.
We also agree that respondent employees are entitled to money claims and full reimbursement of their placement fees. However, the award of the three-month equivalent of respondent employees’ salaries should be increased to the amount equivalent to the unexpired term of the employment contract in accordance with our rulings in Serrano v. Gallant Maritime Services, Inc., G.R. No. 167614, March 24, 2009, 582 SCRA 255 and Sameer Overseas Placement Agency, Inc. v. Cabiles, G.R. No.170139, August 5, 2014, 732 SCRA 22.
In Serrano, we declared unconstitutional the clause in Section 10 of R.A. No. 8042 limiting the wages that could be recovered by an illegally dismissed overseas worker to three months. We held that the clause “or for three (3) months for every year of the unexpired term, whichever is less” (subject clause) is both a violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. In 2010, upon promulgation of Republic Act No. 10022, the subject clause was reinstated. Presented with the unique situation that the law passed incorporated the exact clause already declared unconstitutional, without any perceived substantial change in the circumstances, in Sameer, we, once again, declared the reinstated clause unconstitutional, this time as provided in Section 7 of R.A. No. 10022 (Jardeleza, J., SC 3rd Division, Powerhouse Staffbuilders International, Inc. vs. Romelia Rey, et. al., G.R. No. 190203, November 07, 2016).
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on October 07, 2017.
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