High Court rules in favor of Cebu hospital workers

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Thursday, December 29, 2011


CEBU CITY -- About 88 workers who were sacked by a hospital for staging a series of strikes 15 years ago have won separation pay, with the High Court saying there was no proof they did anything illegal.

The Supreme Court (SC) partly granted the petition of the terminated Visayas Community Medical Center (VCMC) employees and ordered the hospital management to pay them one month’s salary for every year of service and attorney’s fees amounting to P50,000.

The dispute began in 1996.

“Since there is no clear proof those union members actually participated in the commission of illegal acts during the strike, they are not deemed to have lost their employment status as a consequence of a declaration of illegality of the strike,” read the decision that Associate Justice Martin Villarama Jr. penned for the SC’s First Division.

In April 1996, the VCMC terminated the services of about 100 of its rank-and-file employees for participating in the strike and picket. The dismissed workers had been demanding for the hospital management to resume bargaining.

The National Federation of Labor (NFL) said it was exclusively representing rank-and-file employees of VCMC, formerly known as the Metro Cebu Community Hospital Inc. (MCCHI).

Another local union group, Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa MCCH, led by Perla Nava, also claimed to be the official bargaining representative of the VCMC employees.

Last December 6, 1996, Nava wrote Rev. Gregorio Iyoy, VCMC administrator, expressing the union’s desire to renew the CBA, which was allegedly signed by about 153 union members.

Nava’s group requested from the hospital management to allow several union members to avail of one day’s leave with pay on December 19, 1995.

The hospital, however, returned the CBA proposal and told Nava’s group to secure an endorsement of the NFL legal counsel, Armando Alforque, being the official bargaining representative of the VCMC employees.

Alforque also informed the hospital that the proposed CBA was never referred to NFL and that it has not authorized the other union group for any collective bargaining negotiations.

In January 1996, the hospital suspended the collection of union fees in view of the conflict between the local and national labor organizations.
Last February 26, 1996, 12 union members were told they had been granted one day’s leave with pay.

The following day, several union members allied with Nava launched a series of mass actions. They wore black and red armbands and marched around the hospital premises, then put up placards and streamers in the vicinity.

The hospital directed the union members who joined the protest to submit within 48 hours a written explanation why their services should not be terminated over the illegal strike.

But Nava and her group denied there was a temporary stoppage of work, explaining that employees wore their armbands only as a sign of protest.

Impact

Eventually, the Department of Labor and Employment Central Visayas issued a certification stating that Nava’s union group is not a registered labor organization.

On March 30, 1996, the VCMC sent termination letters to union leaders and other members who participated in the strike and picket.

On April 8, 1996, the hospital also issued a cease-and-desist order to the rest of the striking employees, stressing that the activities spearheaded by the Nava group were illegal.

In April 1996, the hospital dismissed more than 100 employees for their continued picketing.

The hospital said it suffered heavy losses and a low patient admission rate, as a result of the continued protest.

The VCMC filed a petition for injunction with the National Labor Relations Commission, which later issued a temporary restraining order against the illegal strikes.

Separation

The dismissed workers also filed complaints for illegal dismissal and unfair labor practice, but the labor arbiter dismissed these for lack of basis.

The sacked workers went to the Court of Appeals, which also dismissed the case since only 47 of 88 petitioners signed the certification against forum shopping.

But in its decision, the SC said dismissing the petitioners’ appeal on that ground was improper.

“When all the plaintiffs or petitioners share a common interest and invoke a common cause of action or defense, the signature of only one of them in the certification against forum shopping substantially complies with the rule,” the Court ruled.

The SC also ruled the union members are not entitled to back wages, but should be awarded separation pay in lieu of reinstatement. (GMD of Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 29, 2011.

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