Appeals court to CDC: Pay cash benefits of 455 Clark resort workers

Jun A. Malig
Appeals court to CDC: Pay cash benefits of 455 Clark resort workers
The appellate court upholds the decision rendered by NCMB arbiter Josephus Jimenez on April 29, 2014, ordering the Clark Development Corporation to regard Mimosa employees as regular employees and pay their unpaid bonuses

PAMPANGA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals affirmed the 2014 decision of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) which ordered the Clark Development Corporation (CDC) to pay the allowances, incentives, and bonuses of some 455 employees of the 202-hectare Mimosa Leisure Estate here that remain unpaid since 2009.

In an amended decision issued by the Court of Appeals last April 22, it said Mimosa employees should receive the bonuses extended by the Arroyo and Aquino administrations to all employees of government offices and Government Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCC).

The appellate court upheld the decision rendered by NCMB arbiter and former labor undersecretary Josephus Jimenez on April 29, 2014, ordering the CDC to regard Mimosa employees as regular employees – not as project employees – and pay their unpaid bonuses, such as the monthly Provisional Emergency Relief Allowance (PERA) and the annual Productivity Enhancement Incentive (PEI) from 2009.

The CDC, which took over the operation and management of Mimosa from the Mondragon Leisure and Resorts Corp. in 1999 due to the latter’s failure to pay its rental obligation, has classified the workers of the leisure estate as project employees with no security of tenure or entitlement to bonuses being given by the national government to government and GOCC employees.

The 455-strong Association of Clark Mimosa Employees (ACME) filed a case with the NCMB to demand job security and the payment of their long overdue cash benefits from the CDC. The NCMB decided in favor of the Mimosa employees, declaring them as regular employees of the state-owned and controlled corporation who are entitled to cash benefits approved by the Department of Budget and Management.

Refusing to abide by the NCMB ruling, the CDC elevated the case to the Court of Appeals (CA-G.R. SP No. 135199), which issued a decision on February 5, 2015 reversing the NCMB’s decision.

On April 22, however, the Court of Appeals reversed and set aside its previous decision and upheld the NCMB ruling in favor of ACME’s motion for reconsideration.

“Wherefore, premises considered, Respondent’s Motion for Reconsideration in GRANTED. Our Decision dated February 5, 2015 is hereby REVERSED and SET ASIDE and new judgement is rendered AFFIRMING the April 29, 2014 Decision of Accredited Voluntary Arbitrator Atty. Josephus Jimenez…,” the amended decision signed by Court of Appeals Associate Justice Noel Tijam stated.

Recognizing the Mimosa workers

Citing several past high court decisions, including the Violeta v. NLRC, De Jesus v. PNCC, and Price, et. Al. v. Innodata Corp., the appellate court recognized Mimosa workers’ argument that it has been 15 years since CDC assumed management of the leisure estate and to consider its employees as mere project employees violates their right to security of tenure and their entitlement to be paid the Arroyo and Aquino bonuses and PERA like all the other CDC employees.

“Upon re-examination of the totality of the circumstances in the case at bar, We find it consistent with our labor laws and policies to consider Respondent’s members (Mimosa workers) as regular employees of Petitioner CDC,” the Court of Appeals said.

The appellate court said a project employee is assigned to a project which begins and ends at determined or determinable times.

The Court of Appeals said that it initially recognized CDC’s argument that Mimosa workers had been informed that the status of their employment is dependent upon the assumption of a new investor in the leisure estate. But after a deeper analysis of the circumstances of the instant case, the appellate court said it had to take another look at the propriety of declaring ACME members as project employees despite serving under CDC for 15 years.

It said the provision in the CDC-ACME memorandum agreement (MOA) that the services of Mimosa employees to the CDC is “under a regular project employment basis pending assumption of a new investor/s of the management and operations of the estate” should not be deemed as a specified period or duration as to properly justify categorizing (Mimosa employees) as project employees.

“A review of our jurisprudence would reveal that in order to be classified as a project employee, the period of termination of the ‘project’ must be clearly established at the beginning of the employment,” the Court of Appeals said.

It echoed the Supreme Court’s decision on the Violeta v. NLRC, stating that “the term period has been defined to be a length of existence; duration. A series of years, months or days in which something is completed. A time of definite length or the period from one fixed date to another fixed date.”

“Evidently, to blindly accept the term specified in the MOA as a ‘specified duration of a project or undertaking’ is to make dependent the employment of Respondent’s (ACME) members to the outcome of a process which they totally have no control of. Hence, for all intents and purposes, the term specified in the MOA is a condition and not a period,” the appellate court ruled.

“Proceeding from Our finding that Respondent’s (ACME) members are Petitioner’s (CDC) regular employees, We find no legal obstacle to their entitlement to PERA, GMA and PNOY bonuses,” it added.

Termination

The CDC recently compelled the 455 ACME members and the about 100 non-members of the union in Mimosa to sign their respective employment termination papers, as Gotianun family’s Filinvest Group is set to take over the management and operation of the leisure estate from the CDC.

Their employment would end on May 31.

Last week, Rappler asked the CDC through an email if it would pay the unpaid cash benefits of Mimosa employees. Noel Tulabut of the CDC public affairs department responded via phone, saying the leisure estate’s employees would receive their separation. Tulabut said he was not familiar with the Mimosa employees’ unpaid cash benefits and would just email or call Rappler for additional information after he confers with officials of the state-owned corporation privy to the issue. As of posting time, Rappler was still waiting for Tulabut’s email.

Filinvest recently signed a 50-year lease contract, renewable for another 25 years, with the CDC after receiving a notice of award for the lease, development, operation and management of the leisure estate which has two golf courses, a 303-room hotel, and more than 100 villas.

Filinvest did not commit to re-hire ACME members and non-members. But some employees of Mimosa told Rappler that the Gotianun-led corporation would retain some of the Mimosa workers.

The more than 200 CDC-hired employees of the Holiday Inn Resort Clark Field inside the Mimosa Leisure Estate were also made to sign work termination papers stating that their employment would end on May 25, 2016. – Rappler.com

 

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