Going beyond the normal in Lazada
Though already reported by the media, the decision involving the Lazada delivery riders (Ditiangkin v. Lazada, Sept. 21, 2022, uploaded on Jan. 19, 2023, Second Division, ably written by Senior Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen, with the concurrence of JJ Amy C. Lazaro-Javier, Jhosep Y. Lopez, and Antonio T. Kho Jr.; Mario V. Lopez, on official business) still deserves a lookback because the Supreme Court once more demonstrated its activist and libertarian streak in going beyond two sets of normal rules in labor controversies.
THE FIRST SET IS ON THE NORMAL PROCEDURE IN THE APPEALS OF LABOR CASES. Normally, decisions of the labor arbiters (LA) are appealable to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). In turn, decisions of the NLRC are reviewable by the Court of Appeals (CA). In such reviews by the CA, the unbending norm since 1998 is for the challenger to show to the CA that the NLRC committed grave abuse of discretion — smeaning that the NLRC acted in an “arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility and [the action] must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty…” Moreover, later decisions added that “any violation of the Constitution, the law and/or jurisprudence” is already gravely abusive without any need of discussing whether the act was done in an “arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility…”
Normally again, when the CA affirms these two labor agencies’ decisions, the Supreme Court uses the largely unknown “1-2-3 rule” by dismissing the petition before it without much ado via an unsigned resolution saying the CA did not commit any reversible error.
Normally also, the high court does not review the facts as uniformly found by the CA, NLRC, and LA. It normally reviews only errors of law, not errors of fact, because the lower tribunals are better equipped with the knowledge and tools to determine the truth.
In the Lazada case, the CA held that, to repeat, the NLRC did not gravely abuse its discretion, in effect affirming the NLRC’s decision. Yet the Supreme Court went beyond the normal and refused to apply the “1-2-3 rule” and the ban on factual review. Instead, it waded deep into an exhaustive factual review and negated the factual findings of the two specialized labor tribunals and the legal rulings of the CA as will be shown later.
SECOND, THIS CASE INVOLVES THE RIDERS’ DELIVERY OF GOODS listed in an online platform or catalog of Lazada to the online buyers. Based on these facts, the three lower tribunals found the riders to be independent job contractors, not regular employees of Lazada.
However, the Court overturned this finding saying that Lazada failed to discharge its legal burden to show that the riders were not regular employees under the four-fold rule: “(a) the employer’s selection and engagement of the employee; (b) the payment of wages; (c) the power to dismiss; and (d) the power to control the employee’s conduct. The power of control is the most significant factor in the four-fold test.” Because of this failure, the riders were deemed regular employees.
Neither, the Court added, were the riders independent job contractors because they did not “carr[y] on a distinct and independent business and undertake to perform the job, work, or service on [their] own account and under [their] own responsibility according to [their] own manner and method, free from the control and direction of the principal … except as to the results thereof.”
Nor were they possessed of “unique skills and talents which set them apart from ordinary employees and whose means and methods of work are free from the control of the employer. Examples … include a columnist who was hired because of her talent, skill, experience, and feminist standpoint, a basketball referee who has special skills and independent judgment, and a masiador or sentenciador who had expertise in cockfight gambling.”
In contrast, “[t]he work performed by petitioners [does] not require a special skill or talent. Picking up and delivering goods from warehouse to buyers does not call for specific expertise. It [was] also not shown that petitioners were hired due to their unique ability or competency.”
TO JUSTIFY ITS ACTIVIST AND LIBERTARIAN STREAKS, the Court cited this overarching constitutional mandate: “The State shall afford full protection to labor, local and overseas, organized and unorganized, and promote full employment and equality of employment opportunities for all … [W]orkers … shall be entitled to security of tenure, humane conditions of work, and a living wage.”
According to the Court, “… the policy of the state to assure the right of workers to security of tenure … is an act of social justice. When a person has no property, his job may possibly be his only possession or means of livelihood. Therefore, he should be protected against any arbitrary deprivation of his job.”
The last paragraph, if I may say so myself, is reminiscent of my own philosophy of liberty and prosperity under the rule of law.
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