Legality of work stoppage

July 15, 2013 10:22 pm

In sympathy with the labor sector that staged a welga ng bayan to protest the accelerating prices of oil, the officers of two labor unions staged a work stoppage that lasted for several days. The companies of these labor unions filed a petition with the Labor Arbiter to declare the work stoppage illegal for failure to comply with the following requirements: (1) filing of notice of strike; (2) securing a strike vote, and (3) submission of a report of the strike vote to the Department of Labor and Employment.

The officers of the labor unions, on the other hand, countered that they did comply with the necessary requirements. And, they were prevented from going to work due to the difficulties of finding transportation to work and were concerned for their safety if in case violence erupted as a result of the welga. Also, the workers were prevented from reporting for work by being locked out of the office premises.

The Labor Arbiter held that the strike was illegal. Thus, the officers of the labor unions lost their employment status and were eventually terminated by their employers. On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) reversed the Labor Arbiter and held that there was no strike due to the fact that there was no labor dispute between the employers and the employees. Thus, the employees were ordered to be reinstatement, without loss of seniority rights, and with full back wages from the date of their termination. The Court of Appeals (CA) however reverted to the ruling of the Labor Arbiter that the employees failed to prove their compliance with the requirements of a legal strike. In fact, they never produced before the Labor Arbiter a copy

The Supreme Court (SC) sustained the ruling of the CA that an illegal strike did take place. Because the employees were not able to prove that they informed their employers of their intention to join the welga ng bayan, their work stoppage was not entitled to legal protection –

Stoppage of work due to welga ng bayan is in the nature of a general strike, an extended sympathy strike. It affects numerous employers including those who do not have a dispute with their employees regarding their terms and conditions of employment. Employees who have no labor dispute with their employer but who, on a day they are scheduled to work, refuse to work and instead join a welga ng bayan commit an illegal work stoppage.
Moreover, the SC ruled that union officers must bear the consequences of their actions when they knowingly participate in an illegal strike. Article 264 (a) of the Labor Code clearly provides that “any union officer who knowingly participates in an illegal strike may be declared to have lost his employment status.” It reiterated that in Gold City Integrated Port Service, Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission, the word “may” in Article 264 (a) was explained and implies that “[t]he law . . . grants the employer the option of declaring a union officer who participated in an illegal strike as having lost his employment.” Thus, the reinstatement or retention of the striker’s employment, despite his participation in an illegal strike, is a management prerogative the Court will not question (Biflex Phils. Labor Union v. Filflex Industrial and Manufacturing Corp, G.R. No. 155679, 19 December 2006, J. Carpio-Morales).