CASE DIGEST: William Uy Construction v. Trinidad

G.R. No. 183250 : March 10, 2010




On August 1, 2006 respondent filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and unpaid benefits against petitioner. Trinidadclaimed that he had been working with the latter company for 16 years since 1988 as driver of its service vehicle, dump truck, and transit mixer and he had signed several employment contracts with the company that identified him as a project employee although he had always been assigned to work on one project after another with some intervals.

Respondent further alleged that in December 2004 petitioner company terminated him from work after it shut down operations because of lack of projects.He learned later, however, that although it opened up a project in Batangas, it did not hire him back for that project.

Petitioner company countered that it was in the construction business.By the nature of such business, it had to hire and engage the services of project construction workers, including respondentTrinidad, whose employments had to be co-terminous with the completion of specific company projects.For this reason, every time the company employedTrinidad, he had to execute an employment contract with it, calledAppointment as Project Worker.

On December 23, 2006 the LA rendered a decision, dismissing respondentTrinidads complaint for unjust dismissal. The LA held that, sinceTrinidadwas a project employee and since his company submitted the appropriate establishment termination report to DOLE, his loss of work cannot be regarded as unjust dismissal. It found no basis for grantingTrinidadovertime pay, holiday pay, and 13thmonth pay.

The NLRC affirmed the LAs ruling, prompting respondentTrinidadto elevate his case to the CA.On April 24, 2008 the latter rendered a decision, reversing the NLRCs findings.Petitioner company moved for a reconsideration of the decision but the CA denied the motion.
Whether or not petitioner companys repeated rehiring of respondentTrinidadover several years as project employee for its various projects automatically entitled him to the status of a regular employee?

The petition is granted.


the test for distinguishing a project employee from a regular employee is whether or not he has been assigned to carry out a specific project or undertaking, with the duration and scope of his engagement specified at the time his service is contracted.Here, it is not disputed that petitioner company contracted respondent Trinidad's service by specific projects with the duration of his work clearly set out in his employment contracts. He remained a project employee regardless of the number of years and the various projects he worked for the company.

Generally, length of service provides a fair yardstick for determining when an employee initially hired on a temporary basis becomes a permanent one, entitled to the security and benefits of regularization.But this standard will not be fair, if applied to the construction industry, simply because construction firms cannot guarantee work and funding for its payrolls beyond the life of each project.And getting projects is not a matter of course.Construction companies have no control over the decisions and resources of project proponents or owners.There is no construction company that does not wish it has such control but the reality, understood by construction workers, is that work depended on decisions and developments over which construction companies have no say.

In this case, respondentTrinidads series of employments with petitioner company were co-terminous with its projects.When its Boni Serrano-Katipunan Interchange Project was finished in December 2004,Trinidads employment ended with it.He was not dismissed.His employment contract simply ended with the project for which he had signed up.His employment history belies the claim that he continuously worked for the company.Intervals or gaps separated one contract from another.

The CA noted that DOLE Order 19 required employers to submit a report of termination of employees every completion of construction project.And, since petitioner company submitted at the hearing before the LA only the termination report covering respondentTrinidads last project, it failed to satisfy such requirement.

But respondentTrinidaddid not say in his complaint that he had been illegally dismissed after each of the projects for which he had been signed up.His complaint was essentially that he should have been rehired from the last project since he had already acquired the status of a regular employee.Consequently, petitioner company needed only to show the last status ofTrinidads employment, namely, that of a project employee under a contract that had ended and the companys compliance with the reporting requirement for the termination of that employment.Indeed, both the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC were satisfied that the fact of petitioner companys compliance with DOLE Order 19 had been proved in this case.

Parenthetically, the Social Security System should be able to alleviate the temporary unemployment of construction workers, a problem that is inherent in the nature of their work.