The nature of employment is defined in the Labor Code, thus:
Art. 280. Regular and casual employment. The provisions of written agreement to the contrary notwithstanding and regardless of the oral agreement of the parties, an 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 service to be performed is seasonal in nature and the employment is for the duration of the season.
An employment shall be deemed to be casual if it is not covered by the preceding paragraph: Provided, That any employee who has rendered at least one year of service, whether such service is continuous or broken, shall be considered a regular employee with respect to the activity in which he is employed and his employment shall continue while such activity exists.
Lynvil contends that it cannot be guilty of illegal dismissal because the private respondents were employed under a fixed-term contract which expired at the end of the voyage. The pertinent provisions of the contract are:
- NA ako ay sumasang-ayon na maglingkod at gumawa ng mga gawain sang-ayon sa patakarang “por viaje” na magmumula sa pagalis sa Navotas papunta sa pangisdaan at pagbabalik sa pondohan ng lantsa sa Navotas, Metro Manila;
- NA ako ay nakipagkasundo na babayaran ang aking paglilingkod sa paraang “por viaje” sa halagang P__________ isang biyahe ng kabuuang araw xxxx.
Lynvil insists on the applicability of the case of Brent School, to wit:
Accordingly, and since the entire purpose behind the development of legislation culminating in the present Article 280 of the Labor Code clearly appears to have been, as already observed, to prevent circumvention of the employee’s right to be secure in his tenure, the clause in said article indiscriminately and completely ruling out all written or oral agreements conflicting with the concept of regular employment as defined therein should be construed to refer to the substantive evil that the Code itself has singled out: agreements entered into precisely to circumvent security of tenure. It should have no application to instances where a fixed period of employment was agreed upon knowingly and voluntarily by the parties, without any force, duress or improper pressure being brought to bear upon the employee and absent any other circumstances vitiating his consent, or where it satisfactorily appears that the employer and employee dealt with each other on more or less equal terms with no moral dominance whatever being exercised by the former over the latter. Unless thus limited in its purview, the law would be made to apply to purposes other than those explicitly stated by its framers; it thus becomes pointless and arbitrary, unjust in its effects and apt to lead to absurd and unintended consequences.
Contrarily, the private respondents contend that they became regular employees by reason of their continuous hiring and performance of tasks necessary and desirable in the usual trade and business of Lynvil.
Jurisprudence, laid two conditions for the validity of a fixed-contract agreement between the employer and employee:
First, the fixed period of employment was knowingly and voluntarily agreed upon by the parties without any force, duress, or improper pressure being brought to bear upon the employee and absent any other circumstances vitiating his consent; or
Second, it satisfactorily appears that the employer and the employee dealt with each other on more or less equal terms with no moral dominance exercised by the former or the latter.
Textually, the provision that: “NA ako ay sumasang-ayon na maglingkod at gumawa ng mga gawain sang-ayon sa patakarang “por viaje” na magmumula sa pagalis sa Navotas papunta sa pangisdaan at pagbabalik sa pondohan ng lantsa sa Navotas, Metro Manila” is for a fixed period of employment. In the context, however, of the facts that: (1) the respondents were doing tasks necessarily to Lynvil’s fishing business with positions ranging from captain of the vessel to bodegero; (2) after the end of a trip, they will again be hired for another trip with new contracts; and (3) this arrangement continued for more than ten years, the clear intention is to go around the security of tenure of the respondents as regular employees. And respondents are so by the express provisions of the second paragraph of Article 280, thus:
xxx Provided, That any employee who has rendered at least one year of service, whether such service is continuous or broken, shall be considered a regular employee with respect to the activity in which he is employed and his employment shall continue while such activity exists.
The same set of circumstances indicate clearly enough that it was the need for a continued source of income that forced the employees’ acceptance of the “por viaje” provision.