Tuesday, November 14, 2017

THE PUBLIC perception of Filipino seamen on board overseas ships is that they earn much bigger salary than land-based employees. In a sense it’s true: They make so much money that they build palatial homes and buy all trappings of luxury in the wink of an eye.

The seamen themselves don’t think so, however. As a matter of fact, they don’t enjoy the normal “security of tenure” accorded to land-based workers. The usual employment contract an average seaman signs with his employer has shrunk to a very short term ranging from six to nine months.

The moment his contract expires, he goes back to square one – at the mercy of his employer who has the option to renew his contract. Otherwise, he is forced to look for another employer, in which case with no assurance of greener pasture. In all cases, his employability hinges on his physical fitness. Whether new or renewable, he is required to undergo the pre-employment medical examination. Unless pronounced “fit to work” by a company-authorized physician, he could not go on board. If unfit, since by now he is no longer covered by an employment contract, he may not even claim medical assistance from his immediate past employer.

On the other hand, if physically disabled due to work-related disease or accident while still within the contract period, he is entitled to company-sponsored hospitalization and medicines for 120 days and may claim corresponding compensation. If he consequently dies, his family is entitled to death benefits.

Here is where conflict between employer and employee arises. The latter, assuming he survives his serious disease or accident, realizes that the end of his money-making days has come. It’s time to fight for total and permanent disability compensation provided by law.

A case in point is that of Chief Officer Esmeraldo Arriesgado, who had been working just for one shipping company since 1996. His career was still sailing smoothly when he signed for his fourth employment contract. However, while on board M/V Willow Point off Fiji Island on October 19, 2008, he complained of severe chest pain. He was rushed to the Labasa Divisional Hospital, for confinement. He was diagnosed to be suffering from myocardial infarction and hypertension.

On Oct. 28 that year, he was repatriated to Manila and underwent thorough laboratory exams.

Their conclusion was that the seaman was no longer fit to work. And so he filed for total disability compensation with Epic Maritime Personnel, his manning agency.

The offered compensation, unfortunately, was so insignificant that Arriesgado asked for time to decide whether to accept it. Meanwhile, he sought the assistance of the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers and Heirs (FLASH).

FLASH head lawyer Pete Linsangan took up the cudgels for Arriesgado by filing a case for permanent disability benefits amounting to $60,000 dollars before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). The labor arbiter assigned to the case, however, recommended a smaller amount.

Undaunted, Linsangan appealed his client’s case. The NLRC thereafter sustained the appeal, ruling that Arriesgado be paid total and permanent disability benefits amounting to $60,000.  The ruling declared that the subject seafarer had become unfit to further exercise his nautical profession for the rest of his life, hence losing his earning capacity forever.

The defendant eventually paid Arriesgado the compensation due him.

To keep seamen informed on their rights, FLASH airs a weekly radio program, “Tribuna sang Banwa,” on Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo (720 khz) every Sunday, 12:15 to 1 p.m. (hvego31@gmail.com/PN)


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