Published 4 October 2021, The Daily Tribune

When the pandemic struck, most, if not all, workers realized the power of collective voice. Where workers are able to act collectively, it increases their opportunity to secure enhanced safety measures, favorable benefits and working conditions, and a sense of safety, particularly in this difficult time. Most importantly, a collective voice affords them strength in negotiating for favorable terms of employment, such as flexible work arrangements to save jobs and, at the same time, sustain the business.

Thus, it is no surprise that unions are more pro-active at this time of the pandemic. However, not all unions may collectively bargain with employers. Sole and exclusive bargaining agent (SEBA) refers to a legitimate labor union duly certified as the sole and exclusive bargaining representative or agent of all the employees in a collective bargaining unit (CBU). Only the SEBA in an appropriate CBU can act as the exclusive representative of all employees in such unit for purposes of collective bargaining with the employer.

A CBU refers to a group of employees sharing mutual interests within a given employer unit (Section 1, Rule I, Book V, Rules to Implement the Labor Code, as amended by Department Order 40-03, Series of 2003). To illustrate, all non-academic rank-and-file employees of a university with several branches in Diliman, Quezon City, Padre Faura, Manila, Laguna and Visayas were considered as one bargaining unit (University of the Philippines v. Ferrer-Calleja, GR 96189, 14 July 1992).

A labor union certified as SEBA means that it shall remain such during the existence of the collective bargaining agreement, to the exclusion of all other labor organizations existing and operating in the same CBU. Once certified, what is represented by the SEBA are not only its members, but also those who are members of other unions, called the “minority” unions.

The SEBA of the employees in a CBU may be determined through any of the following modes:

• Request for SEBA Certification — The request will only be granted by the DoLE if what is involved is an unorganized establishment with only one legitimate union. (Department Order 40-I-15, series of 2015)

• Certification Election which is further classified as —
(a) Single-union election — This refers to a situation where only one legitimate labor organization files a petition for certification election to be certified as SEBA. Its opponent is the “no union” vote, a choice which is always available in all electoral exercises, except run-off election which will be discussed below.

(b) Multi-union election — This refers to a situation where there are two or more unions in contention. This may result in and give rise to other kinds of election, namely:

(i) Consent election — When the two or more contending unions voluntarily and mutually agree to hold the certification election among themselves, with or without the participation and supervision of the DoLE.

(ii) Run-off election — When at least three or more unions are involved in the certification election and not one of them has garnered the majority of the valid votes cast, but the total votes of all the contending unions is equivalent to at least 50 percent of the valid votes cast.

(iii) Re-run election — When there is a tie or failure of election in a certification election involving two or more unions, thereby necessitating the conduct of another election called re-run election.

Certification election refers to the process of determining through secret ballot the SEBA of the employees in an appropriate CBU for purposes of collective bargaining or negotiations. It is held to ensure the employees are properly represented in the exercise of their right to collectively bargain with their employer. Hence, no obstacle must be placed to the holding of the certification election for it is the statutory policy that it should not be circumvented. (Trade Unions of the Philippines and Allied Services World Federation of Trade Unions v. Laguesma, GR 102350, 30 June 1994).

The certification election is the most democratic method of determining the choice of the employees of their bargaining representative (Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association v. Ferrer-Calleja, GR 76673, 22 June 1988).

May the workers reading this article find the right SEBA that will zealously fight for their rights and interest, particularly during a pandemic.

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