Case Digest: Diamond Farms, Inc. v. SPFL et al.

G.R. Nos. 173254-55 & 173263

January 13, 2016

JARDELEZA, J.:

Facts:

DFI owns an 800-hectare banana plantation ("original plantation") in Alejal, Carmen, Davao. Pursuant to Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988 ("CARL"), commercial farms shall be subject to compulsory acquisition and distribution, thus the original plantation was covered by the law. DFI offered to give up its rights and interest over the original plantation in favor of the government by way of a Voluntary Offer to Sell. The DAR accepted DFI's offer to sell the original plantation. Out of the total 800 hectares, the DAR only approved the disposition of 689.88 hectares.


The awarded plantation was turned over to qualified agrarian reform beneficiaries ("ARBs") under the CARL. These ARBs are the same farmers who were working in the original plantation. They subsequently organized themselves into a multi-purpose cooperative named "DARBMUPCO," which is one of the respondents in this case. DARBMUPCO entered into a Banana Production and Purchase Agreement ("BPPA") with DFI. Under the BPPA, DARBMUPCO and its members as owners of the awarded plantation, agreed to grow and cultivate only high grade quality exportable bananas to be sold exclusively to DPI. The BPPA is effective for 10 years.18 Hampered by lack of manpower to undertake the agricultural operation under the BPPA, DFI engaged the services of the respondent-contractors, who in turn recruited the respondent-workers to assist DARBMUPCO in meeting its production obligations under the BPPA,


Southern Philippines Federation of Labor ("SPFL")—a legitimate labor organization with a local chapter in the awarded plantation filed a petition for certification election in the Office of the Med-Arbiter on behalf of some 400 workers (the respondent-workers in this petition) "jointly employed by DFI and DARBMUPCO" working in the awarded plantation.


In another case, SPFL, together with more than 300 workers, filed a case for underpayment of wages, nonpayment of 13th month pay and service incentive leave pay and attorney's fees against DFI, DARBMUPCO and the respondent-contractors before the National Labor Relations Commission ("NLRC").


DARBMUPCO and DFI denied that they are the employers of the respondent-workers. They claimed, instead, that the respondent-workers are the employees of the respondent-contractors.


Issue:

Who among DFI,DARBMUPCO and the respondent-contractors is the employer of the respondent-workers?


Ruling:

Petition is denied. Furthermore, the decision of the Court of Appeals declaring DFI to be the employer of respondent-workers is affirmed.


This case involves job contracting, a labor arrangement expressly allowed by law. Contracting or subcontracting is an arrangement whereby a principal (or employer) agrees to put out or farm out with a contractor or subcontractor the performance or completion of a specific job, work or service within a definite or predetermined period, regardless of whether such job, work or service is to be performed or completed within or outside the premises of the principal.


The Omnibus Rules Implementing the Labor Code distinguishes between permissible job contracting (or independent contractorship) and labor-only contracting. Job contracting is permissible under the Code if the following conditions are met:


(1) The contractor carries on an independent business and undertakes the contract work on his own account under his own responsibility according to his own manner and method, free from the control and direction of his employer or principal in all matters connected with the performance of the work except as to the results thereof; and

(2) The contractor has substantial capital or investment in the form of tools, equipment, machineries, work premises, and other materials which are necessary in the conduct of his business.


In contrast, job contracting shall be deemed as labor-only contracting, an arrangement prohibited by law, if a person who undertakes to supply workers to an employer:

(1) Does not have substantial capital or investment in the form of tools, equipment, machineries, work premises and other materials; and


(2) The workers recruited and placed by such person are performing activities which are directly related to the principal business or operations of the employer in which workers are habitually employed.


Based on the conditions for permissible job contracting, we rule that respondent-contractors are labor only contractors.

There is no evidence showing that respondent-contractors are independent contractors. The respondent-contractors, DFI, and DARBMUPCO did not offer any proof that respondent-contractors were not engaged in labor-only contracting.


Herein respondents, Voltaire Lopez, Jr., et al., were commissioned and contracted by petitioner, Diamond Farms, Inc. (DFI) to recruit farm workers, who are the complaining [respondent-workers] (as represented by Southern Philippines Federation of Labor (SPFL) in this appeal by certiorari).


Farm tools, implements and equipment necessary to performance of such farm activities were supplied by petitioner DFI. Herein respondents Voltaire Lopez, Jr. et. al. had no adequate capital to acquire or purchase such tools, implements, equipment, etc.


Herein respondents Voltaire Lopez, Jr., et. al. as well as rcspondents-SPFL, et. al. were being directly supervised, controlled and managed by petitioner DFI farm managers and supervisors, specifically on work assignments and performance targets.


A finding that a contractor is a labor-only contractor is equivalent to a declaration that there is an employer-employee relationship between the principal, and the workers of the labor-only contractor; the labor-only contractor is deemed only as the agent of the principal. Thus, in this case, respondent-contractors are the labor-only contractors and either DFI or DARBMUPCO is their principal. We hold that DFI is the principal. The records show that it is DFI which hired the individual [respondent-contractors] who in turn hired their own men to work in the 689.88 hectares land of DARBMUPCO as well as in the managed area of the plantation.


DFI cannot argue that DARBMUPCO is the principal of the respondent-contractors because it (DARBMUPCO) owns the awarded plantation where respondent-contractors and respondent-workers were working. That DARBMUPCO owns the awarded plantation where the respondent-contractors and respondent-workers were working is immaterial.DFI, as the principal, hired the respondent-contractors and the latter, in turn, engaged the services of the respondent-workers.


Clearly, DFI is the true employer of the respondent-workers; respondent-contractors are only agents of DFI. Under Article 106 of the Labor Code, DFI shall be solidarily liable with the respondent-contractors for the rightful claims of the respondent-workers, to the same manner and extent, as if the latter are directly employed by DFI.


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