What are labor disputes?

The focal issue for determination is whether or not respondent Court correctly assumed jurisdiction over the present controversy and properly issued the Writ of Preliminary Injunction to the resolution of that question, is the matter of whether, or not the case at bar involves, or is in connection with, or relates to a labor dispute. An affirmative answer would bring the case within the original and exclusive jurisdiction of labor tribunals to the exclusion of the regular Courts.

Petitioners take the position that 'it is beyond dispute that the controversy in the court a quo involves or arose out of a labor dispute and is directly connected or interwoven with the cases pending with the NCMB-DOLE, and is thus beyond the ambit of the public respondent's jurisdiction. That the acts complained of (i.e., the mass concerted action of picketing and the reliefs prayed for by the private respondent) are within the competence of labor tribunals, is beyond question" (pp. 6-7, Petitioners' Memo).

On the other hand, SanMig denies the existence of any employer-employee relationship and consequently of any labor dispute between itself and the Union. SanMig submits, in particular, that "respondent Court is vested with jurisdiction and judicial competence to enjoin the specific type of strike staged by petitioner union and its officers herein complained of," for the reasons that:

A. The exclusive bargaining representative of an employer unit cannot strike to compel the employer to hire and thereby create an employment relationship with contractual workers, especially were the contractual workers were recognized by the union, under the governing collective bargaining agreement, as excluded from, and therefore strangers to, the bargaining unit.

B. A strike is a coercive economic weapon granted the bargaining representative only in the event of a deadlock in a labor dispute over 'wages, hours of work and all other and of the employment' of the employees in the unit. The union leaders cannot instigate a strike to compel the employer, especially on the eve of certification elections, to hire strangers or workers outside the unit, in the hope the latter will help re-elect them.

C. Civil courts have the jurisdiction to enjoin the above because this specie of strike does not arise out of a labor dispute, is an abuse of right, and violates the employer's constitutional liberty to hire or not to hire. (SanMig's Memorandum, pp. 475-476, Rollo).
The Supreme Court finds the Petition of a meritorious character. A "labor dispute" as defined in Article 212 (1) of the Labor Code includes "any controversy or matter concerning terms and conditions of employment or the association or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or arranging the terms and conditions of employment, regardless of whether the disputants stand in the proximate relation of employer and employee."

While it is SanMig's submission that no employer-employee relationship exists between itself, on the one hand, and the contractual workers of Lipercon and D'Rite on the other, a labor dispute can nevertheless exist "regardless of whether the disputants stand in the proximate relationship of employer and employee" (Article 212 [1], Labor Code, supra) provided the controversy concerns, among others, the terms and conditions of employment or a "change" or "arrangement" thereof (ibid). Put differently, and as defined by law, the existence of a labor dispute is not negative by the fact that the plaintiffs and defendants do not stand in the proximate relation of employer and employee.

That a labor dispute, as defined by the law, does exist herein is evident. At bottom, what the Union seeks is to regularize the status of the employees contracted by Lipercon and D'Rite in effect, that they be absorbed into the working unit of SanMig. This matter definitely dwells on the working relationship between said employees vis-a-vis SanMig. Terms, tenure and conditions of their employment and the arrangement of those terms are thus involved bringing the matter within the purview of a labor dispute. Further, the Union also seeks to represent those workers, who have signed up for Union membership, for the purpose of collective bargaining. SanMig, for its part, resists that Union demand on the ground that there is no employer-employee relationship between it and those workers and because the demand violates the terms of their CBA. Obvious then is that representation and association, for the purpose of negotiating the conditions of employment are also involved. In fact, the injunction sought by SanMig was precisely also to prevent such representation. Again, the matter of representation falls within the scope of a labor dispute. Neither can it be denied that the controversy below is directly connected with the labor dispute already taken cognizance of by the NCMB-DOLE (NCMB-NCR- NS-01- 021-89; NCMB NCR NS-01-093-83).

Whether or not the Union demands are valid; whether or not SanMig's contracts with Lipercon and D'Rite constitute "labor-only" contracting and, therefore, a regular employer-employee relationship may, in fact, be said to exist; whether or not the Union can lawfully represent the workers of Lipercon and D'Rite in their demands against SanMig in the light of the existing CBA; whether or not the notice of strike was valid and the strike itself legal when it was allegedly instigated to compel the employer to hire strangers outside the working unit; — those are issues the resolution of which call for the application of labor laws, and SanMig's cause's of action in the Court below are inextricably linked with those issues.

The precedent in Layno vs. de la Cruz (G.R. No. L-29636, 30 April 1965, 13 SCRA 738) relied upon by SanMig is not controlling as in that case there was no controversy over terms, tenure or conditions, of employment or the representation of employees that called for the application of labor laws. In that case, what the petitioning union demanded was not a change in working terms and conditions, or the representation of the employees, but that its members be hired as stevedores in the place of the members of a rival union, which petitioners wanted discharged notwithstanding the existing contract of the arrastre company with the latter union. Hence, the ruling therein, on the basis of those facts unique to that case, that such a demand could hardly be considered a labor dispute.

As the case is indisputably linked with a labor dispute, jurisdiction belongs to the labor tribunals. As explicitly provided for in Article 217 of the Labor Code, prior to its amendment by R.A. No. 6715 on 21 March 1989, since the suit below was instituted on 6 March 1989, Labor Arbiters have original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide the following cases involving all workers including "1. unfair labor practice cases; 2. those that workers may file involving wages, hours of work and other terms and conditions of employment; ... and 5. cases arising from any violation of Article 265 of this Code, including questions involving the legality of striker and lockouts. ..." Article 217 lays down the plain command of the law.

The claim of SanMig that the action below is for damages under Articles 19, 20 and 21 of the Civil Code would not suffice to keep the case within the jurisdictional boundaries of regular Courts. That claim for damages is interwoven with a labor dispute existing between the parties and would have to be ventilated before the administrative machinery established for the expeditious settlement of those disputes. To allow the action filed below to prosper would bring about "split jurisdiction" which is obnoxious to the orderly administration of justice (Philippine Communications, Electronics and Electricity Workers Federation vs. Hon. Nolasco, L-24984, 29 July 1968, 24 SCRA 321). (G.R. No. 87700; June 13, 1990)