Lepanto v. Lepanto Employees (G.R. No. 180866; March 2, 2010)


FACTS: Respondent Lepanto Ceramics Employees Association (respondent Association) is a legitimate labor organization duly registered with the Department of Labor and Employment. It is the sole and exclusive bargaining agent in the establishment of petitioner. In December 1998, petitioner gave a P3,000.00 bonus to its employees, members of the respondent Association. Subsequently,in September 1999, petitioner and respondent Association entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which provides for, among others, the grant of a Christmas gift package/bonus to the members of the respondent Association.

The Christmas bonus was one of the enumerated existing benefit, practice of traditional rights which shall remain in full force and effect. In the succeeding years, 1999, 2000 and 2001, the bonus was not in cash.Instead, petitioner gave each of the members of respondent Association Tile Redemption Certificates equivalent to P3,000.00.The bonus for the year 2002 is the root of the present dispute.Petitioner gave a year-end cash benefit of Six Hundred Pesos (P600.00) and offered a cash advance to interested employees equivalent to one (1) month salary payable in one year.The respondent Association objected to the P600.00 cash benefit and argued that this was in violation of the CBA it executed with the petitioner. The parties failed to amicably settle the dispute.The respondent Association filed a Notice of Strike with the National Conciliation Mediation Board.The efforts to conciliate failed.

The case was then referred to the Voluntary Arbitrator for resolution where the Complaint was docketed as Case No. LAG-PM-12-095-02.The Voluntary Arbitrator rendered a Decision declaring that petitioner is bound to grant each of its workers a Christmas bonus of P3,000.00 for the reason that the bonus was given prior to the effectivity of the CBA between the parties and that the financial losses of the company is not a sufficient reason to exempt it from granting the same.It stressed that the CBA is a binding contract and constitutes the law between the parties.The Voluntary Arbitrator further expounded that since the employees had already been given P600.00 cash bonus, the same should be deducted from the claimed amount of P3,000.00, thus leaving a balance of P2,400.00. Petitioner elevated the case to the Court of Appeals which affirmed toto the decision of the Voluntary Arbitrator.

ISSUE: Is the petitioner obliged to give the members of the respondent Association a Christmas bonus?

HELD: By definition, a bonus is a gratuity or act of liberality of the giver. It is something given in addition to what is ordinarily received by or strictly due the recipient. A bonus is granted and paid to an employee for his industry and loyalty which contributed to the success of the employer's business and made possible the realization of profits. A bonus is also granted by an enlightened employer to spur the employee to greater efforts for the success of the business and realization of bigger profits. Generally, a bonus is not a demandable and enforceable obligation. For a bonus to be enforceable, it must have been promised by the employer and expressly agreed upon by the parties. Given that the bonus in this case is integrated in the CBA, the same partakes the nature of a demandable obligation.Verily, by virtue of its incorporation in the CBA, the Christmas bonus due to respondent Association has become more than just an act of generosity on the part of the petitioner but a contractual obligation it has undertaken.A CBA refers to a negotiated contract between a legitimate labor organization and the employer, concerning wages, hours of work and all other terms and conditions of employment in a bargaining unit.As in all other contracts, the parties to a CBA may establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, provided these are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy. It is a familiar and fundamental doctrine in labor law that the CBA is the law between the parties and they are obliged to comply with its provisions.This principle stands strong and true in the case at bar. A reading of the provision of the CBA reveals that the same provides for the giving of a Christmas gift package/bonus without qualification. Terse and clear, the said provision did not state that the Christmas package shall be made to depend on the petitioner's financial standing. The records are also bereft of any showing that the petitioner made it clear during CBA negotiations that the bonus was dependent on any condition. Indeed, if the petitioner and respondent Association intended that the P3,000.00 bonus would be dependent on the company's earnings, such intention should have been expressed in the CBA.

All given, business losses are a feeble ground for petitioner to repudiate its obligation under the CBA. The rule is settled that any benefit and supplement being enjoyed by the employees cannot be reduced, diminished, discontinued or eliminated by the employer. The principle of non-diminution of benefits is founded on the constitutional mandate to protect the rights of workers and to promote their welfare and to afford labor full protection. Hence, absent any proof that petitioners consent was vitiated by fraud, mistake or duress, it is presumed that it entered into the CBA voluntarily and had full knowledge of the contents thereof and was aware of its commitments under the contract. DENIED.