GMA Network v. Pabriga (G.R. No. 176419; November 27, 2013)


FACTS: Private respondents were engaged by petitioner for the latters operations in the Technical Operations Center as Transmitter/VTR men, as Maintenance staff and as Cameramen On July 19 1999 due to the miserable working conditions private respondents were forced to file a complaint against petitioner before the NLRC Regional Arbitration Branch No. VII Cebu City.

Private respondents filed an amended complaint raising the following additional issues of 1) Unfair Labor Practice; 2) Illegal dismissal; and 3) Damages and Attorneys fees.An amicable settlement between the parties was set but the same proved to be futile.

The Labor Arbiter dismissed the complaint of respondents for illegal dismissal and unfair labor practice, but held petitioner liable for 13th month pay.

The NLRC reversed the Decision of the Labor Arbiter, and held that

a) All complainants are regular employees with respect to the particular activity to which they were assigned, until it ceased to exist. As such, they are entitled to payment of separation pay computed at one (1) month salary for every year of service;
b) They are not entitled to overtime pay and holiday pay; and
c) They are entitled to 13th month pay, night shift differential and service incentive leave pay.

When Petitioner elevated the case to the CA via a Petition for Certiorari, it rendered its Decision denying the petition for lack of merit. Hence, this present Petition for Review on Certiorari.

ISSUES: [1] Did the CA err in finding the respondents as regular employees of the petitioner?

[2] Did the CA err in awarding separation pay to the respondents absent a finding that respondents were illegally dismissed?

HELD: Respondents claim that they are regular employees of petitioner GMA Network, Inc. The latter, on the other hand, interchangeably characterize respondents employment as project and fixed period/fixed term employment.

ARTICLE 280. Regular and casual employment. The provisions of written agreement to the contrary notwithstanding and regardless of the oral agreement of the parties, an employment shall be deemed to be regular where the employee has been engaged to perform activities which are usually necessary or desirable in the usual business or trade of the employer, except where the employment has been fixed for a specific project or undertaking the completion or termination of which has been determined at the time of the engagement of the employee or where the work or services to be performed is seasonal in nature and employment is for the duration of the season.

An employment shall be deemed to be casual if it is not covered by the preceding paragraph: Provided, That, any employee who has rendered at least one year of service, whether such service is continuous or broken, shall be considered a regular employee with respect to the activity in which he is employed and his employment shall continue while such activity actually exist.

Pursuant to the above-quoted Article 280 of the Labor Code, employees performing activities which are usually necessary or desirable in the employers usual business or trade can either be regular, project or seasonal employees, while, as a general rule, those performing activities not usually necessary or desirable in the employers usual business or trade are casual employees. The consequence of the distinction is found in Article 279 of the Labor Code, which provides:

ARTICLE 279. Security of tenure. In cases of regular employment, the employer shall not terminate the services of an employee except for a just cause or when authorized by this Title. An employee who is unjustly dismissed from work shall be entitled to reinstatement without loss of seniority rights and other privileges and to his full backwages, inclusive of allowances, and to his other benefits or their monetary equivalent computed from the time his compensation was withheld from him up to the time of his actual reinstatement.

On the other hand, the activities of project employees may or may not be usually necessary or desirable in the usual business or trade of the employer.

The term "project" could also refer to, secondly, a particular job or undertaking that is not within the regular business of the corporation. Such a job or undertaking must also be identifiably separate and distinct from the ordinary or regular business operations of the employer. The job or undertaking also begins and ends at determined or determinable times. ALU-TUCP v. National Labor Relations Commission, G.R. No. 109902, August 2, 1994

The jobs and undertakings are clearly within the regular or usual business of the employer company and are not identifiably distinct or separate from the other undertakings of the company. There is no denying that the manning of the operations center to air commercials, acting as transmitter/VTR men, maintaining the equipment, and acting as cameramen are not undertakings separate or distinct from the business of a broadcasting company.

In sum, we affirm the findings of the NLRC and the Court of Appeals that respondents are regular employees of petitioner. As regular employees, they are entitled to security of tenure and therefore their services may be terminated only for just or authorized causes. Since petitioner failed to prove any just or authorized cause for their termination, we are constrained to affirm the findings of the NLRC and the Court of Appeals that they were illegally dismissed.

Since the respondents were illegally dismissed, they entitled to separation pay in lieu of reinstatement.

As regards night shift differential, the Labor Code provides that every employee shall be paid not less than ten percent (10%) of his regular wage for each hour of work performed between ten o'clock in the evening and six o'clock in the morning.

As employees of petitioner, respondents are entitled to the payment of this benefit in accordance with the number of hours they worked from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m., if any.

The matter of attorney's fees cannot be touched once and only in the fallo of the decision, else, the award should be thrown out for being speculative and conjectural. In the absence of a stipulation, attorney's fees are ordinarily not recoverable; otherwise a premium shall be placed on the right to litigate. They are not awarded every time a party wins a suit.

In the case at bar, the factual basis for the award of attorney's fees was not discussed in the text of NLRC Decision. Thus, the Court constrained to delete the same.