The seafarer, like other OFWs, is often looked up to as one of today’s heroes who, through the huge remittances in billions of dollars they earn, have propped up our economy. These remittances help spur domestic consumption in the Philippines and a key ingredient in the country’s drive to achieve higher but sustainable growth.
Despite the glorification of his economic contribution, he is not given the benefits he deserves. He is especially economically vulnerable because of the nature of his employment which is periodic, i.e., a short term of not more than one year per contract. He does not have the security of tenure, nor is entitled to retirement benefits and usually pays for his training.
Away from his family and working onboard vessels sailing non-stop for weeks or months the world’s oceans, he is mentally and emotionally stressed. Constantly exposed to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant weather changes of extreme hot and cold as the ships cross-ocean boundaries, not to mention harsh weather conditions, the risks of his getting killed, injured, or ill are high.
As if working under these difficult conditions are not enough, when he sustains injury, illness, or loses his life, seldom does he receive full compensation provided under the law and contract because his employer does not hesitate to harness its immense resources to limit its liability. He has no choice but signs his employment contract, a contract of adhesion, that contains terms and conditions formulated more favorable to his employer and littered with ambiguous provisions, generalizations, technicalities that he does not understand.
When he or his heirs claim for compensation for death, disability, or illness, in the determination of whether or not the cause of death is work-connected, or the gravity or grading of the injury, the decision-makers more often than not rely on the biased medical opinion of the company-designated physician over that of his physician.
In many instances, the signs Receipt and Quitclaim documents thereby releasing his employers from all claims, demands, and causes of action without even understanding their contents. Oftentimes, he is misled into accepting an ex-gratia, minuscule amount, in the guise that his condition is either not work-connected, or for any other reason for which he does not comprehend.
More often than not, he knows that he is being cheated of his rights, but how can he question his employer in these instances, without putting at risk his chances of getting employed again?
The basic seafarers’ issues, among others, include (a) illegal recruitment; (b) illegal dismissal; (c) non-payment or underpayment of salaries and wages; (d) disability benefits due to injury or illness and (e) death benefits.
His legal rights emanate from the following sources: (a) the Philippine Constitution; (b) the Labor Code; (c) the Civil Code of the Philippines; (d) international maritime conventions, and (e) the standard employment contract.
The welfare of every seafarer is best safeguarded when the seafarer himself is fully aware of his rights and prerogatives that need to be expounded.
(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)