Assumption of Jurisdiction by the Secretary of Labor


The Secretary of the DOLE has been explicitly granted by Article 263 (g) of the Labor Code the authority to assume jurisdiction over a labor dispute causing or likely to cause a strike or lockout in an industry indispensable to the national interest, and decide the same accordingly. And, as a matter of necessity, it includes questions incidental to the labor dispute; that is, issues that are necessarily involved in the dispute itself, and not just to that ascribed in the Notice of Strike or otherwise submitted to him for resolution. (G.R. Nos. 158930-31, March 3, 2008)

Assumption and certification orders are executory in character and are to be strictly complied with by the parties, even during the pendency of any petition questioning their validity. Regardless therefore of its motives, or of the validity of its claims, the employer must readmit all striking employees and give them back their respective jobs. Accepting back the workers in this case is not a matter of option, but of obligation mandated by law for the employer to faithfully comply with. Its compulsory character is mandated, not to cater to a narrow segment of society, or to favor labor at the expense of management, but to serve the greater interest of society by maintaining the economic equilibrium. (G.R. No. 155125, December 4, 2009)

The determination of who among the strikers could be admitted back to work cannot be made to depend upon the discretion of employer, lest we strip the certification or assumption-of-jurisdiction orders of the coercive power that is necessary for attaining their laudable objective. The return-to-work order does not interfere with the management's prerogative, but merely regulates it when, in the exercise of such right, national interests will be affected. The rights granted by the Constitution are not absolute. They are still subject to control and limitation to ensure that they are not exercised arbitrarily. The interests of both the employers and employees are intended to be protected and not one of them is given undue preference. (G.R. No. 155125, December 4, 2009)
The grant of these plenary powers to the Secretary of Labor makes it incumbent upon him to bring about soonest, a fair and just solution to the differences between the employer and the employees, so that the damage such labor dispute might cause upon the national interest may be minimized as much as possible, if not totally averted, by avoiding stoppage of work or any lag in the activities of the industry or the possibility of those contingencies that might cause detriment to the national interest.

In order to effectively achieve such end, the assumption or certification order shall have the effect of automatically enjoining the intended or impending strike or lockout. Moreover, if one has already taken place, all striking workers shall immediately return to work, and the employer shall immediately resume operations and readmit all workers under the same terms and conditions prevailing before the strike or lockout. (G.R. No. 155125, December 4, 2009)

Plainly, Article 263 (g) of the Labor Code was meant to make both the Secretary (or the various regional directors) and the labor arbiters share jurisdiction, subject to certain conditions. Otherwise, the Secretary would not be able to effectively and efficiently dispose of the primary dispute. To hold the contrary may even lead to the absurd and undesirable result wherein the Secretary and the labor arbiter concerned may have diametrically opposed rulings. As we have said, "(i)t is fundamental that a statute is to be read in a manner that would breathe life into it, rather than defeat it. (G.R. Nos. 92981-83, 9 January 1992)

The very nature of a return-to-work order issued in a certified case lends itself to no other construction. The certification attests to the urgency of the matter, affecting as it does an industry indispensable to the national interest. The order is issued in the exercise of the court's compulsory power of arbitration, and therefore must be obeyed until set aside. . . . (Phil. 386, 392 [1971])

Certainly, the determination of who among the strikers could be admitted back to work cannot be made to depend upon the discretion of employer, lest we strip the certification or assumption-of-jurisdiction orders of the coercive power that is necessary for attaining their laudable objective. The return-to-work order does not interfere with the management's prerogative, but merely regulates it when, in the exercise of such right, national interests will be affected. The rights granted by the Constitution are not absolute. They are still subject to control and limitation to ensure that they are not exercised arbitrarily. The interests of both the employers and employees are intended to be protected and not one of them is given undue preference. (G.R. No. 155125, December 4, 2009)

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