Lu vs. Enopia, et al.
G.R. No. 197899, March 6, 2017
Enopia and others were hired from January 20, 1994 to March 20, 1996 as crew members of the fishing mother boat FIB MG-28 owned by Joaquin “Jake” Lu who is the sole proprietor of Mommy Gina Tuna Resources [MGTR] based in General Santos City.
Parties had an income-sharing arrangement wherein 55% goes to Lu, 45% to the crew members, with an additional 4% as “backing incentive.” They also equally share the expenses for the maintenance and repair of the mother boat, and for the purchase of nets, ropes and payaos.
Sometime in August 1997, Lu proposed the signing of a Joint Venture Fishing Agreement between them, but complainants refused to sign the same as they opposed the one-year term provided in the agreement.
According to complainants, during their dialogue on August 18, 1997, Lu terminated their services right there and then because of their refusal to sign the agreement. On the other hand, Lu alleged that the master fisherman (piado) Ruben Salili informed him that complainants still refused to sign the agreement and have decided to return the vessel FIB MG-28.
On August 25, 1997, complainants filed their complaint for illegal dismissal, monetary claims and damages. Despite serious efforts made by Labor Arbiter (LA), the case was not amicably settled.
The LA rendered a Decision dismissing the case for lack of merit finding that there was no employer-employee relationship existing between petitioner and the respondents but a joint venture.
Complainants appealed to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC).
The NLRC affirmed the LA Decision in its Resolution. Complainants’ motion for reconsideration was denied in a Resolution.
Complainants filed a petition for certiorari with the CA
The CA dismissed the petition for having been filed beyond the 60-day reglementary period as provided under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, and that the sworn certification of non-forum shopping was signed only by two (2) of the complainants who had not shown any authority to sign in behalf of the other crewmembers. As their motion for reconsideration was denied, they went to the Supreme Court via a petition for certiorari assailing the dismissal which the SC granted and remanded the case to the CA for further proceedings.
In a remanded case, the CA rendered its assailed Decision reversing the NLRC awarding separation pay, full backwages, exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees. The CA found that Lu exercised control over respondents. Lu’s motion for reconsideration was denied by the CA. Aggrieved, he filed the instant petition for review on certiorari.
The judicial function of the CA in the exercise of its certiorari jurisdiction over the NLRC extends to the careful review of the NLRC’s evaluation of the evidence because the factual findings of the NLRC are accorded great respect and finality only when they rest on substantial evidence. Accordingly, the CA is not to be restrained from revising or correcting such factual findings whenever warranted by the circumstances simply because the NLRC is not infallible. Indeed, to deny to the CA this power is to diminish its corrective jurisdiction through the writ of certiorari.
In determining the existence of an employer-employee relationship, the following elements are considered: (1) the selection and engagement of the workers; (2) the power to control the worker’s conduct; (3) the payment of wages by whatever means; and (4) the power of dismissal.
The Court found all these elements present in this case.
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It is settled that no particular form of evidence is required to prove the existence of an employer-employee relationship. Any competent and relevant evidence to prove the relationship may be admitted.
In this case, Lu contends that it was the piado who hired complainants, however, it was shown by the latter’s evidence that the employer stated in their Social Security System (SSS) online inquiry system printouts was MGTR, which is owned by Lu.
The printouts revealed that the date of the SSS remitted contributions coincided with the date of respondents’ employment with Lu. He failed to rebut such evidence. Thus, the fact that Lu had registered the respondents with SSS is proof that they were indeed his employees. The coverage of the Social Security Law is predicated on the existence of an employer-employee relationship.
Lu admitted in his pleadings that he had contact with complainants at sea via the former’s radio operator and their checker. He claimed that the use of the radio was only for the purpose of receiving requisitions for the needs of the fishermen in the high seas and to receive reports of fish catch so that they can then send service boats to haul the same.
However, such communication would establish that he was constantly monitoring or checking the progress of respondents’ fishing operations throughout the duration thereof, which showed their control and supervision over complainants’ activities.
The payment of complainants’ wages based on the percentage share of the fish catch would not be sufficient to negate the employer-employee relationship existing between them. Lu wielded the power of dismissal over respondents when he dismissed them after they refused to sign the joint fishing venture agreement.
Learn how to Validly Dismiss Employees: The Guide to Valid Dismissal of Employees