Atlanta Industries vs. Sebolino Digest

G.R. No. 187320, January 26, 2011




Sebolino et al. filed several complaints for illegal dismissal, regularization, underpayment, nonpayment of wages and other money claims as well as damages. They alleged that they had attained regular status as they were allowed to work with Atlanta for more than six (6) months from the start of a purported apprenticeship agreement between them and the company. They claimed that they were illegally dismissed when the apprenticeship agreement expired.

In defense, Atlanta and Chan argued that the workers were not entitled to regularization and to their money claims because they were engaged as apprentices under a government-approved apprenticeship program. The company offered to hire them as regular employees in the event vacancies for regular positions occur in the section of the plant where they had trained. They also claimed that their names did not appear in the list of employees (Master List) prior to their engagement as apprentices.

The Labor Arbiter found the dismissal to be illegal with respect to nine out of the twelve complainants. Atlanta appealed the decision to the NLRC which reversed the illegal dismissal decision with respect to Sebolino and three others. They moved for reconsideration but this was denied. They then brought the case up to the Court of Appeals, which held that Sebolino and the three others were illegally dismiised.

The CA ruled that Sebolino and the three others were already employees of the company before they entered into the first and second apprenticeship agreements. For example, Sebolino was employed by Atlanta on March 3, 2004 then he entered into his first apprenticeship agreement with the company on March 20, 2004 to August 19, 2004. The second apprenticeship agreement was from May 28, 2004 to October 8, 2004. However, the CA found the apprenticeship agreements to be void because they were executed in violation of the law and the rules. Therefore, in the first place, there were no apprenticeship agreements.

Also, the positions occupied by the respondents machine operator, extruder operator and scaleman are usually necessary and desirable in the manufacture of plastic building materials, the companys main business. Sebolino and the three others were, therefore, regular employees whose dismissals were illegal for lack of a just or authorized cause and notice.

ISSUE: Whether or not the CA erred in ruling that Sebolino and three others were illegally dismissed.

HELD: The petition is unmeritorious.

LABOR LAW - Illegal dismissals

The CA committed no reversible error in nullifying the NLRC decision and in affirming the labor arbiters ruling, as it applies toCostales, Almoite, Sebolino and Sagun. Specifically, the CA correctly ruled that the four were illegally dismissed because (1) they were already employees when they were required to undergo apprenticeship and (2) apprenticeship agreements were invalid.

The following considerations support the CA ruling.

FBased on company operations at the time material to the case, Costales, Almoite, Sebolino and Sagun were already rendering service to the company as employees before they were made to undergo apprenticeship. The company itself recognized the respondents status through relevant operational records in the case of Costales and Almoite, the CPS monthly report for December 2003 which the NLRC relied upon and, for Sebolino and Sagun, the production and work schedule for March 7 to 12, 2005 cited by the CA.

The CA correctly recognized the authenticity of the operational documents, for the failure of Atlanta to raise a challenge against these documents before the labor arbiter, the NLRC and the CA itself. The appellate court, thus, found the said documents sufficientto establish the employment of the respondents before their engagement as apprentices.

The fact that Sebolino and the three others were already rendering service to the company when they were made to undergo apprenticeship (as established by the evidence) renders the apprenticeship agreements irrelevant as far as the four are concerned. This reality is highlighted by the CA finding that the respondents occupied positions such as machine operator, scaleman and extruder operator - tasks that are usually necessary and desirable in Atlantas usual business or trade as manufacturer of plastic building materials. These tasks and their nature characterized the four as regular employees under Article 280 of the Labor Code.Thus, when they were dismissed without just or authorized cause, without notice, and without the opportunity to be heard, their dismissal was illegal under the law.