What every seaman should know

OVERSEAS Filipino seamen earn much more than their interisland counterparts;  and so they easily acquire palatial homes, high-end cars and anything under the sun.

This perception, however, could be illusory. There are also “one-day millionaires” among seafarers who squander money and end their journey penniless in old age.

But there are also prudent seamen who, by fluke of fate, fall down to where they had come whenever there is no more contract renewal to look forward to. This is the usual “ending” of sea life for those disabled by disease or accident.

They enjoy no “security of tenure” because they are not “direct hires”; they rely on short-term employment contracts channeled through shipping agencies. The employment contract an average seaman signs with his employer ranges from six to nine months only.

And then he falls back to unpaid vacation. Unless his contract is renewed, he has to look for another employer. Again, his employability depends on passing another pre-employment medical examination. It the company-accredited physician finds him unfit to work, he is rejected. Since he is no longer covered by an employment contract, he may even be denied medical assistance.

On the other hand, if physically disabled by work-related disease or accident 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 gets death benefits.

If his contract has expired and he falls fatally ill thereafter, his bereaved family may not expect more than an abuloy during his wake.

This reminds me of my seaman cousin Ernesto who had just finished serving his nine-month contract when he applied for renewal of his seaman’s visa. While lining up at the Manila office of the Department of Foreign Affairs, he collapsed and was declared dead on arrival at a hospital due to heart attack. Since his contract had expired, his wife received not a single centavo from the maritime agency he had repeatedly worked for.

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.  

Ironically, he may no longer be financially capable of hiring a lawyer.

That was the lesson learned by Chief Officer William (full name withheld upon request) who had been working just for one shipping company since 1996. His career was still sailing smoothly when he signed his fourth employment contract. However, while on board M/V Willow Point off Fiji Island on October 19, 2008, he complained of chest pain that intensified day after day.

But he had to wait for one more week before his ship could “dump” him to the nearest port of call for hospital confinement.

Debilitated by cardiac arrest, the seaman filed for total disability compensation with Epic Maritime Personnel, his manning agency, which unfortunately denied the request.

To make the long story short, it was only through the intercession of the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers and heirs (FLASH) at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) that William got what was due him The NLRC decided to award him permanent disability benefits amounting to US $60,000.00 or around P3 million.

Is there anyone in the family with similar predicament?

If so, the Free Legal Assistance for Seafarers and Heirs (FLASH) may help. Please get in touch with paralegal Neri Camiña at cellular phone No. 0917 328 8742.  ([email protected]  /PN)

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