VIR-JEN SHIPPING vs. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, et al

G.R. No. L-58011 & L-58012 November 18, 1983

VIR-JEN SHIPPING AND MARINE SERVICES, INC., petitioner,
vs.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS COMMISSION, et al

 FACTS:

The Seamen entered into separate contracts of employment with the Company, engaging them to work on board M/T’ Jannu for a period of twelve (12) months. After verification and approval of their contracts by the NSB, the Seamen boarded their vessel in Japan.

ITF- is the acronym for the International Transport Workers Federation, a militant international labor organization with affiliates in different ports of the world, which reputedly can tie down a vessel in a port by preventing its loading or unloading, This is a sanction resorted to by ITF to enforce the payment of its wages rates for seafarers the so-called ITF rates, if the wages of the crew members of a vessel who have affiliated with it are below its prescribed rates.)

Respondents:

THE seamen claimed that they were not contented with their present salaries ‘based on the volume of works, type of ship with hazardous cargo and registered in a world wide trade’: that the ‘officers and crew (were) not interested in ITF membership if not actually paid with ITF rate that their ‘demand is only 50% increase based on present basic salary and that the proposed wage increase is the ‘best and only solution to solve ITF problem’ since the Company’s salary rates ‘especially in tankers (are) very far in comparison with other shipping agencies in Manila …

Petitioner:

The Company proposed a 25% increase in the basic pay of the complainant crew members.” Seamen accepted the proposal with certain conditions.

Subsequently, the Company sought authority from the NSB to cancel the contracts of employment of the Seamen, claiming that its principals had terminated their manning agreement because of the actuations of the Seamen.The request was granted by the NSB Executive Director.

There is no showing that the Seamen were given the opportunity to at least comment on the Company’s request for the cancellation of their contracts, although they had served only three (3) out of the twelve (12) months’ duration of their contracts.

The private respondents filed a complaint for illegal dismissal and non-payment of earned wages with the National Seamen Board. The Vir-jen Shipping and Marine Services Inc. in turn filed a complaint for breach of contract and recovery of excess salaries and overtime pay against the private respondents.

NSB: declared seamen breached the contract when they demanded and received from Vir-jen Shipping wages over and above their contracted rates.

NLRC: reversed the decision of the NSB 

ISSUES:

  • WON THE TERMINATION OF THE SEAMEN WAS ILLEGAL
  • WON THE seamen violated their contracts of employment.

 

 

HELD:

  1. Yes.

 

It is competence and reliability, not cheap labor that makes our seamen so greatly in demand. Filipino seamen have never demanded the same high salaries as seamen from the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and other developed nations. But certainly they are entitled to government protection when they ask for fair and decent treatment by their employer.-, and when they exercise the right to petition for improved terms of employment, especially when they feel that these are sub-standard or are capable of improvement according to internationally accepted rules

We agree with the movants that there is no showing of any cause, which under the Labor Code or any current applicable law, would warrant the termination of the respondents’ services before the expiration of their contracts.

The Constitution guarantees State assurance of the rights of workers to security of tenure. (Sec. 9, Article II, Constitution). Presumptions and provisions of law, the evidence on record, and fundamental State policy all dictate that the motions for reconsideration should be granted.

2. No.

The form contracts approved by the National Seamen Board are designed to protect Filipino seamen not foreign shipowners who can take care of themselves.

The standard forms embody’ the basic minimums which must be incorporated as parts of the employment contract. (Section 15, Rule V, Rules and Regulations Implementing the Labor Code.)

They are not collective bargaining agreements or immutable contracts which the parties cannot improve upon or modify in the course of the agreed period of time.

 To state, therefore, that the affected seamen cannot petition their employer for higher salaries during the 12 months duration of the contract runs counter to established principles of labor legislation.

The National Labor Relations Commission, as the appellate tribunal from decisions of the National Seamen Board, correctly ruled that the seamen did not violate their contracts to warrant their dismissal.

ADD FACTS:

The facts show that when the respondents boarded the M/T Jannu there was no intention to send their ship to Australia. On January 10, 1979, the petitioner sent a cable to respondent shipmaster Bisula informing him of the procedure to be followed in the computation of special compensation of crewmembers while in ITF controlled ports and expressed regrets for not having earlier clarified the procedure as it thought that the vessel would trade in Carribean ports only.

On March 22, 1979, the petitioner sent another cable informing Bisula of the special compensation when the ship would call at Kwinana Australia. The following day, shipmaster Bisula cabled Vir-jen stating that the officers and crews were not interested in ITF membership if not paid ITF rates and that their only demand was a 50 percent increase based on their then salaries. Bisula also pointed out that Vir-jen rates were “very far in comparison with other shipping agencies in Manila.

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