In a small town in Negros Oriental, employees formed a labor union. Their employer (Hacienda) owned a sugarcane plantation and did not favor employees associated to unions and refused to negotiate with the labor union to discuss the collective bargaining agreement between the hacienda and the laborers. The hacienda did not give work to 36 employees for more than a month, which led to the employees staging a strike. Issues were temporarily settled when the hacienda and union entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). Unfortunately, the MOA was not followed and the hacienda even employed armed guards to ensure that the employees could not enter the premises.
With the assistance of Department of Labor and Employment, another MOA was reached. The employees were supposed to be reinstated upon availability of work but the hacienda reneged on its commitment once again. Hence, a case for illegal dismissal was filed with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). In the hacienda’s defense, it argued that the employees were merely seasonal employers and not regular employees who could file a case of illegal dismissal.
The NLRC ruled that the hacienda illegally dismissed its employees who were deemed regular employees since they performed the same task for several years. The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the NLRC’s decision –
[W]hile the work of (employees) was seasonal in nature, they were considered to be merely on leave during the off-season and were therefore still employed by (hacienda). Moreover, the workers enjoyed security of tenure. Any infringement upon this right was deemed by the CA to be tantamount to illegal dismissal.
The Supreme Court agreed with the CA, holding that the refusal of the hacienda to “make use of the services of their employees, even when they were ready, able, and willing to perform their usual duties whenever these were available, and hiring of other workers to perform the tasks originally assigned to (them) amounted to illegal dismissal of the latter.” Article 280 of the Labor Code provides for the distinction between regular and seasonal employees –[a]n employment shall be deemed to be regular where the employee has been engaged to perform activities which are usually necessary or desirable in the usual business or trade of the employer, except where the employment has been fixed for a specific project or undertaking the completion or termination of which has been determined at the time of the engagement of the employee or where the work or services to be performed is seasonal in nature and the employment is for the duration of the season.
The Court clarified that in order to be classified as a seasonal worker, and excluded from the classification of regular employees, one must perform work or services that are seasonal in nature and be employed only for the duration of one season.
On the other hand, regular employees include seasonal employees who continuously and repeatedly perform a particular nature of work as it is “sufficient evidence of the necessity if not indispensability of that activity to the business.” The employment is considered regular only with respect to the activity and while such activity exists.
Citing De Leon v. NLRC, “this Court has already settled that seasonal workers who are called to work from time to time and are temporarily laid off during off-season are not separated from service in said period, but merely considered on leave until re-employed” (Hacienda Fatima v. National Federation of Sugarcane Workers-Food and General Trade, G.R. No. 149440, 28 January 2003, J. Panganiban).