Procedural due process in termination cases

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An engineer was recruited as a seafarer to work in a vessel in the United Arab Emirates for nine months. At the end of his first month of deployment, the engineer’s boss expressed dissatisfaction over the engineer’s performance and informed him that if he does not improve his “job/working performance within [a]short time, he will be signed off” in accordance with the company’s collective bargaining agreement. This dissatisfaction was made as an entry in the ship’s engine logbook. A similar notice of dissatisfaction was given two (2) weeks later and was likewise entered in the logbook.

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The very next day, the engineer received a notice of his discharge –
Pls. be informed that you will be discharged according to CBA Article 1 (7) in first possible port. Reason for the decision is, as you have been informed by chief engineer Per Nielsen on several occasions, he [does]not find you qualified for the position as 3rd engineer onboard this vessel. The chief engineer has also made 2 entries in the engine logbook, regarding your insufficient job/working, which you are well aware of.

Upon the engineer’s return to the Philippines, he filed a complaint for illegal dismissal with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Both the Labor Arbiter (LA) and NLRC found that the engineer was dismissed without just cause and that procedural due process for the termination was not complied with.

On appeal, however, the Court of Appeals overturned the decision and ruled that the notices complied with procedural due process. The Supreme Court (SC) reverted to the findings of the LA and NLRC.

The SC held that even though the company gave notice to the engineer, these notices were insufficient to comply with what was required by law. The notices were vague and failed to expound on or state the details of the engineer’s shortcomings or infractions. In order for a dismissal to be valid, “it should also comply with the rudimentary requirements of due process, that is, the opportunity to be heard and to defend oneself” –

Procedural due process requires that a seaman must be given a written notice of the charges against him and afforded a formal investigation where he can defend himself personally, or through a representative before he can be dismissed and disembarked from the vessel. The employer is bound to furnish him two notices: (1) the written charge and (2) the written notice of dismissal (in case that is the penalty imposed).

Furthermore, Section 17 of the POEA Revised Standard Employment Terms and Conditions laid down the disciplinary procedures to be taken against erring seafarers. The employer must furnish the seafarer with a written notice containing: (1) grounds for the charges and (2) the date, time, and place for a formal investigation. The notice must also state with particularity the acts, or omissions for which his dismissal is being sought.

Both notices did not comply with what was required as neither stated particular acts or omissions charged against the engineer to warrant his dismissal. Nor was there a formal investigation. Anything short of complying with the requirements laid down by law and jurisprudence amounts to a dismissal. The SC emphasized that “sufficient notice should be given as part of due process because a worker’s employment is his property in the constitutional sense” (De la Cruz v. Maersk Filipinas Crewing Inc. et al, G.R. No. 172038, 14 April 2008, J. Corona).

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