On Feb. 18, 2013, respondent Naess Shipping Philippines Inc., in behalf of its principal Royal Dragon Ocean Transport Inc., executed a Contract of Employment for Marine Crew on Board Domestic Vessels engaging the services of petitioner Luis G. Gemudiano Jr., as second officer aboard the vessel M/V Meiling 11. It was stipulated among others, that the contract shall take effect on March 12, 2013. Subsequently, they executed an Addendum to Contract of Employment for Marine Crew Onboard Domestic Vessels stating that the employment relationship between them shall commence once the master of the vessel issues a boarding confirmation to the petitioner.
On March 8, 2013, petitioner received a call from respondents’ crewing manager informing him that Royal Dragon cancelled his embarkation. Thus, he filed a complaint for breach of contract against respondents before the Arbitration Branch of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).
In defense, respondents argued that petitioner’s employment did not commence because his deployment was withheld by reason of misrepresentation. They stressed that petitioner did not disclose the fact that he is suffering from diabetes mellitus and asthma which render him unfit for sea service. They claimed that the Labor Arbiter has no jurisdiction over petitioner’s complaint for breach of contract, invoking the absence of employer-employee relationship.
Does this argument find merit?
Based on this provision (Article 224, now Art. 217 of the Labor Code), it is clear that claims for actual, moral, exemplary and other forms of damages arising from employer-employee relations are under the original and exclusive jurisdiction of labor arbiters.
While there are cases which hold that the existence of an employer-employee relationship does not negate the civil jurisdiction of the trial courts, in this particular case, we find that jurisdiction properly lies with the Labor Arbiter.
Not only are the terms under Article 224, above quoted, clear and unequivocal, practical considerations bolster the Court’s resolve that jurisdiction of the instant case falls under the labor tribunals and not with the civil courts.
The determination of propriety of petitioner’s non-deployment necessarily involves the interpretation and application of labor laws, which are within the expertise of labor tribunals. The question of whether respondents are justified in cancelling the deployment of petitioner requires determination of whether a subsequent advice from the same medical provider as to the health of petitioner could validly supersede its initial finding during the required PEME that petitioner is fit to work.
Moreover, if the Court were to make a distinction between the perfection of a contract of employment and the commencement of an employment relationship on its face, and so rule that a mere perfected contract would make the jurisdiction of the case fall under regular courts, the Court will arrive at a dangerous conclusion where domestic seafarers’ only recourse in law in case of breach of contract is to file a complaint for damages before the Regional Trial Court. In so doing, domestic seafarers would have to pay filing fees which his overseas counterpart need not comply with in filing a complaint before the labor arbiters. As a necessary consequence, the domestic seafarers would need to prove their claim by preponderance of evidence or “evidence which is of greater weight, or more convincing than that which is offered in opposition to it,” which is greater than what overseas seafarers need to discharge in cases before labor arbiters, where they only have to prove their claims by substantial evidence or “that amount of evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. (Luis G. Gemudiano, Jr. vs. Naess Shipping Philippines Inc., et al., G.R. 223825, Jan. 20, 2020).