MY brother Randy is a seaman. Whenever he comes home from nine months at sea, he looks thinner. He spends most of his vacation time at home, prepare healthy meals, and go out for fun with friends and relatives. Only we he regains his healthy frame would he book for another nine-month ship work.
“We seafarers,” he told me yesterday, “always take seriously the adage, ‘Bawal magkasakit.’ We have to work hard and save money before turning into jobless senior citizens. As contractual workers, we are not entitled to retirement benefits.”
Whether literally or figuratively, overseas seamen risk sailing through rough seas that could abort their plans for the future.
In the first place, though he may be amassing dollars, the typical seaman suffers from “insecurity of tenure.” Except in rare cases, his employment contract with the shipping company covers only six to nine months. In case of a disabling accident or premature death, his bereaved family could end up in penury.
On the other hand, if the same misfortune strikes the seafarer at sea or on land within the contract period, he or his family is compensated in accordance with labor laws. However, it is usually easier said than done, since he could be tricked into accepting substandard benefits.
At the expiration of his contract period, the seaman may renew it – but only after passing the pre-employment medical examination.
From the standpoint of the ship owner, usually represented locally by a manning agency, it’s a fair deal aimed at preserving the survival of both the employer and the employee.
Needless to say, if the seaman wants to stay on board, then he must obey the unwritten rule: “Stay healthy.”
Otherwise, he would be dropped like a hot potato and replaced by a healthier applicant.
Between him and his employer, the disabled seaman often ends up the loser. Unless his employer is so benevolent as to indemnify him in accordance with labor laws, he has to file a claim at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and prepare for a legal fight all the way to the Supreme Court.
Failure to fight means missing the “survival indemnity” he is entitled to. But by fighting for the right compensation in accordance with labor laws, he gets a chance to re-invent himself through business or any other alternative endeavor.
A case in point was that of a certain Porfirio (surname withheld on family’s request), who disappeared while on board. Against the crewing agency’s claim that the seaman had committed “suicide by jumping overboard,” hence non-compensatory, the victim’s father decried “foul play” and filed an NLRC case against the agency and the ship owner. To cut the long story short, the ship owner relented without waiting for the case to prosper. Offered a compensation of US $75,000.00, the complainant/claimant accepted the amount.
The victim’s father told this writer that his family could not have financially recovered hat it not been for that legal move initiated by a team of lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers and Heirs (FLASH), which always renders free legal services to exploited seamen, collecting a small share of collected claims only.
With proper legal representation by a competent maritime lawyer, the disabled seaman or the widow of a dead one can always aim for compensation based on the standard Philippine Overseas Employment Administration contract. A widow ought to receive at least $50,000.00 from her late husband’s employer, plus $7,000.00 for each of the couple’s first four children.
FLASH beams the radio program “Tribuna sang Banwa,” aimed at helping seamen, every Sunday on Aksyon Radyo-Iloilo (12:15 to 1:15 p.m.) It is hosted by Neri Camiña, a Sangguniang Bayan member of Tigbauan, Iloilo (email@example.com/PN)