SEAFARERS are considered contractual employees. Their employment is governed by the Standard Employment Contract (SEC) they sign and duly approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) every time they are rehired; and their employment is terminated when the contract expires.
Their employment is contractually fixed for a certain period of time. For the seafarers’ mental and physical health, they need a break after “long periods away from home, limited communication and consistently high workloads.”
As a general rule, the period of employment shall be for a period mutually agreed upon by the seafarer and the employer but not to exceed 12 months. The Maritime Labor Convention of 2006 (MLC2006) prescribes that the seafarer has the right to be repatriated within a contract period of less than 12 months.
The commencement of the contract is from the time when the contracted seafarer actually departs from Philippine, either thru airport or seaport, for employment. It shall cease when the seafarer completes his period of contractual service aboard the ship, signs-off from the ship and arrives at the point of hire.
The POEA contract requires the seafarer to arrive at the point of hire as it signifies the completion of the employment contract, and not merely its expiration.
Similarly, a seafarer’s employment contract is terminated even before the contract expires as soon as he arrives at the point of hire and signs off for medical reasons, due to shipwreck, voluntary resignation or for other just causes.
There are instances that the employment is not terminated as set in the contract but becomes a subject of extension.
Usually extension of contract period are not encouraged due to factors such as fatigue, complacency and other health reasons, and same may not be accepted if relief is already lined up. Extension request must always be documented duly signed.
Any extension of the contract can be voluntary or compulsory.
- voluntary if the extension is with the mutual consent of both parties
- compulsory until the ship’s arrival at a convenient port and/or after arrival of the replacement crew provided that, in any case, the continuance of such service shall not exceed three months.
In the absence of a new document or POEA contract, as long as the seafarer has not yet arrived at the point of hire, it is legally presumed that the original contract is still subsisting. If a seafarer keeps working for the same employer for a period longer than the agreed period, any subsequent working period that exceeds this period of time is to be considered an extension of the contract.
The seafarer is entitled to be paid his wages and other benefits after the expiration of his contract and during the extended period until the vessel’s arrival at a convenient port. The obligations and liabilities of the local agency and its foreign principal do not end upon the expiration of the contracted period as they were duty bound to repatriate the seaman to the point of hire to effectively terminate the contract of employment. (Interorient Maritime Enterprises, Inc. v. NLRC, 330 Phil. 493)
If he suffers from an illness or accident or he dies during the extended period, the same benefits from his original contract will be applicable.
However, there was no implied renewal of contract if the seafarer was allowed to stay after the termination of his contract. The extension was due to the fact that the ship was still at sea and the late disembarkation was not without valid reason.
The company could not have disembarked the seafarer on the date of the termination of his employment contract, because the vessel was still in the middle of the sea (Unica vs Anscor Swire Ship Management Corporation; G.R. No. 184318; Feb. 12, 2014)
(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email email@example.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)./PN