The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered a local labor recruitment agency and its foreign principal to pay five illegally dismissed Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) the unexpired portions of their contracts, P4,000 each in documents processing fees, P100,000 each in damages, and attorney’s fees.
In a decision issued by the CA based in Cebu City, the appellate court granted the petition against the 2018 decision of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) filed by OFWs Norman P. Nilo, George Samson Encabo Jr., Romulo Burdago Pilar Jr., Jun Alvin Playda Po and Robello Ruyag Reyes.
The monetary awards were imposed on Ruru Global Recruitment Services, Inc. and its foreign principal, Strategic Marine Vietnam Co. Limited, a ship builder in Vietnam.
The CA decision, which was promulgated on April 30, 2021, was written by Associate Justice Lorenza R. Bordios and concurred in by Associate Justices Pamela Ann Abella Maxino and Bautista G. Corpin Jr.
Records showed that the five OFWs were recruited by Ruru Global in its Cebu City office in 2017 as welder-fabricators for Strategic Marine Vietnam through a one-year contract approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA).
They arrived in Vietnam on Jan. 5, 2017. Despite the POEA-approved contract, they were required to sign a probationary labor contract for two months from Jan. 5 to March 5, 2017. After two months, they signed another contract for regular employment for one year from March 18, 2017 to March 18, 2018.
However, on April 24, 2017, they were informed of their termination due to excess personnel and thus, their working visas could no longer be processed since they have been denied by the Vietnam Immigration Department.
They were given US$1,000 each as employment termination fee and deducted US$700 for travel expenses back to the Philippines.
Upon their arrival in the Philippines on May 5, 2017, they filed their monetary claims with Ruru Global which refused to settle. They filed a case with the NLRC.
The labor arbiter dismissed their complaints for illegal dismissal with a ruling that Strategic Marine could not be held liable since the five OFWS could not legally work without valid permits.
When the NLRC upheld the arbiter’s ruling, the five OFWs elevated the case to the CA.
In resolving the issue, the CA said:
“Let it be clarified that petitioners’ (OFWs) deployment to Vietnam was pursuant to the POEA-approved contracts that they signed here in the Philippines. For all intents and purposes, the POEA-approved contract should govern the parties’ employment relations as it was the contract that the Philippine government officially recognized and the basis of petitioners’ deployment.
“Hence, the labor tribunals are bound, not just to refer to, but to use the POEA-approved contracts as the sole basis in resolving the parties’ rights and liabilities with respect to the pre-termination of petitioners’ employments.
“It is never disputed that when petitioners arrived in Vietnam on 05 January 2017, they were made to sign two-month probationary contracts which were effective from 05 January 2017 to 05 March 2017.
“Subsequently, they were also made to sign regular employment contracts which were effective 18 March 2017 to 18 March 2019.
“First, the substitute contracts were not executed in the Philippines and were not processed through the POEA. Under our Labor Code, employers hiring overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) may only process employment contracts through entities authorized by the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment.
“Unless the employment contract of an OFW is processed through the POEA, the same does not bind the concerned OFW because if the contract is not reviewed by the POEA, certainly the State has no means of determining the suitability of foreign laws to our overseas workers.
“Our laws. Paragraph (i) of Article 34 of the Labor Code prohibits the substitution or alteration of employment contracts approved and verified by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) from the time of the actual signing thereof by the parties up to and including the period of expiration of the same without the approval of the DOLE.
“The same prohibition is also embodied in Republic Act No. (RA) 8042, as amended by RA 10022, and in the Revised POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based Overseas Filipino Workers of 2016.
“In fact, the substitution of the POEA-approved contract constitutes illegal recruitment under Section 76 of the POEA rules.
“Recruitment agencies and foreign principals should not be condoned in their unfair dealings of deploying of OFWs upon certain duly-agreed terms, but only to surprise our workers with different actual conditions once they are already abroad. The POEA Rules explicitly directs for honesty and transparency on the part of the recruitment agency in transacting with OFWs.
“The Constitutional guarantee of security of tenure extends to Filipino overseas contract workers.”