Seafarers get over P13 Million in benefits through Voluntary Arbitration
Three Filipino seafarers received more than US$300,000.00 (or P13 M) in claims recently, as three distinct panels of voluntary arbitrators (VA) accredited by the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) handed out decisions in three separate cases.
In his report to Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis Baldoz, NCMB Executive Director Reynaldo R. Ubaldo said the maritime disputes involving three manning companies were decided on the merits, granting the claims of three seafarers for illness allowance, reimbursement of medical expenses, disability benefits, and attorney’s fees.
The first decided voluntary arbitration case involved Ernie T. Carnaje who was employed as a fitter by Crossworld Marine Services, Inc. on behalf of Kapal (Cyprus) Ltd./Limassol, for a period of seven months.
In 2008, Carnaje developed lumbalgia de fuego while on board M/V CMA CGM and was declared unfit to work. He was subsequently repatriated to the Philippines. Despite treatment and physiotherapy for a year, he remained incapacitated.
Denied of his claim in the grievance process, Carnaje, through the assistance of AMOSUP, decided to elevate his complaint to voluntary arbitration. He sought the assistance of NCR Director Walfredo D. Villazor who, in October 2009, appointed a panel of voluntary arbitrators to handle the dispute. The panel was chaired by AVA Gregorio C. Biares, Jr., with AVAs Atty. Allan S. Montano and Leonardo B. Saulog as members.
On January 10, 2011, AVA Biares, Jr. et al handed their decision granting the claims of Carnaje for illness allowance, reimbursement of medical expenses, disability benefits and attorney’s fees amounting to US$ 137,500 (roughly P 6M).
Also, on January 25, 2011, the panel of arbitrators composed of AVAs Angel Ancheta, Atty. Allan S. Montano and Gregorio Biares, Jr. handed down their order holding United Philippines Inc./Fernando T. Lising jointly and solidarily liable to pay Rosalito S. Polizon the amount of US$100,487.20 as disability benefits and attorney’s fees.
Polizon contracted a work-related illness in 2009 while on board the vessel “LNG River Niger” resulting in his subsequent repatriation to the Philippines.
After being denied of his claim by the respondent during the grievance proceedings, Polizon filed before the NCMB-NCR a notice to arbitrate on September 14, 2009, claiming full disability benefits, illness allowance and reimbursement of medical expenses.
The same NCMB report also cited the case involving Welegue L. Lobaton and Philippine Transmarine Carrier Inc. which was decided on January 25, 2011.
Lobaton was hired in 2009 as ordinary seaman aboard the vessel M/V Roberto Rizzo. In November 2009, he was lifting a heavy provision when he suddenly felt back pain, followed by intense pain in his lower back and groin. He was advised to undergo bilateral varicocoelectomy, and was later recommended for rehabilitation. Later, he learned he was no longer fit to resume his sea duties.
Failing to claim his disability benefits through the grievance procedure, Lobaton, filed a notice to arbitrate with the NCMB-NCR in August 2010.
The panel of arbitrators composed of Angel Ancheta, Gregorio C. Biares, Jr., and Leonardo B. Saulog ordered the company to pay Lobaton the amount of US$ 67,892 as disability compensation, illness allowance and attorney’s fees.
Executive Director Ubaldo commended the accredited voluntary arbitrators for their focused and pro-active effort in facilitating the settlement of these disputes, saying their efforts mirror the government’s bias for voluntary arbitration as a means of resolving labor disputes.
“This proves that ordinary workers get fast results for their complaints under our system of labor dispute settlement,” he added, noting that it took the panels of arbitrators an average of only twelve months to decide the cases.
NCMB assists more seafarers with money claims
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz reported an increasing number of Filipino seafarers whose cases involving money claims were settled through the National Conciliation and Mediation Board’s (NCMB) amicable mode of settling disputes.
Citing a report from NCMB Executive Director Reynaldo Ubaldo, Baldoz said that 17 Filipino seafarers received a total of P73.8 million in disability, medical, and other collective bargaining agreement (CBA) benefits following the settlement of their cases by the NCMB during the first six months of 2011.
She said the figure is almost double the number of seafarers, at 21, who sought the intervention of the NCMB in the whole year of 2010. These seafarers also received more than P70 million in disability, medical, and other CBA benefits.
“This means that more seafarers preferred the NCMB’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures, such as conciliation and mediation, and arbitration in settling their claims for CBA benefits,” Baldoz said, noting that ADR provided them with a speedy, fair, and amicable option to litigious, long, and expensive means in the settlement of their money claims.
The DOLE chief cited the case involving seafarer Angelito P. Bigueras who was a member of the Associated Marine Officers and Seafarers Union (AMOSUP).
Bigueras sustained an injury while he was on board an international vessel as a bosun that made him unfit to continue his seafaring. A bosun, sometimes known as the leading hand or senior deckhand, is responsible for maintaining the exterior of the boat clean. He also undertakes bridge watches when at sea.
On 9 March 2011, Bigueras filed a notice to arbitrate with NCMB, claiming disability benefits, sickness allowance, and medical reimbursement benefits as provided for by the CBA with his employer who was represented by his agency, the MST Marine Services.
On 21 June 2011, the parties mutually agreed to pay US$100,000.00 or P4.258 million to Bigueras as full and complete payment of his claims.
Latest Supreme Court Decisions in favor of Filipino Seamen.
With Chief Justice Davide concurring, the Supreme Court in Crystal Shipping Inc., et al. vs. Natividad, G.R. No. 154798, October 20, 2005, (Crystal Shipping) applied Article 192 of the Labor Code to seafarers. Crystal Shipping held that a seafarer who cannot perform his work for more than 120 days, because of a work-related cause, is considered having suffered permanent total disability; thus entitling him to full permanent total disability benefits. It awarded the seafarer his full disability benefits, despite being cured after 2 years and finding work again as a chief mate. The Supreme Court reasoned that these facts are unimportant because the law does not require that the illness should be incurable.
Remigio vs. NLRC, et al., G.R. No. 159887, April 12, 2006, (Remigio) with Chief Justice Puno as the ponente, reiterated Crystal Shipping, and awarded the seafarer his full disability benefits. In Remigio, the seafarer was unfit to work for at least 11 to 13 months. The Supreme Court held that “this fact in itself already constitutes permanent total disability.”
Subsequent Supreme Court decisions reiterated the rulings in Crystal Shipping and Remigio. These cases are: United Philippine Lines, Inc., et al. vs. Beseril, (G.R. No. 165934, April 12, 2006), (United); Micronesia Resources, et al, vs. Cantomayor, (G.R. No. 156573, June 19, 2007), (Micronesia); and Palisoc vs. Easways Marine, et al., G.R. No. 152273, September 11, 2007), (Palisoc).
In United, the Supreme Court held that “even in the absence of an official finding by the company-designated physicians that a seafarer is unfit for sea duty, he is deemed to have suffered permanent disability. Permanent disability is the inability of a worker to perform his job for more than 120 days, regardless of whether he loses the use of any part of his body.” It is undisputed that from the time the seafarer suffered a heart attack on December 5, 1997, he was unable to work for more than 120 days, his cardiac rehabilitation and physical therapy having ended only on May 28, 1998. The Supreme Court noted the fact that “it was only after the seafarer had filed a claim for permanent disability that the company doctors declared him fit for sea duty.” United further held: “the fact that a seafarer was found to be ‘fit to return to work’ by a clinic a few months after his rehabilitation does not matter.” Quoting Crystal Shipping, United added that: “(t)he law does not require that the illness should be incurable. What is important is that he was unable to perform his customary work for more than 120 days which constitutes permanent total disability. An award of a total and permanent disability benefit would be germane to the purpose of the benefit, which is to help the employee in making ends meet at the time when he is unable to work.”
In Micronesia, the Supreme Court noted that “the company designated doctor found the seafarer after 7 months from repatriation as still complaining of on and off chest pain and easy fatigability on long distance walk.” The Supreme Court further held that “based on this medical record alone, it is clear that the seafarer had not been able to resume work as a seaman for more than 120 days and that he continues to suffer chest pains and fatigability on long distance walk.”
Quoting Remigio, Micronesia confirmed “the fact that the seafarer was unfit to work for at least 11 to 13 months already constitutes permanent total disability.” And quoting Crystal Shipping, Micronesia further confirmed that the “(t)he law does not require that the illness should be incurable. What is important is that he was unable to perform his customary work for more than 120 days which constitutes permanent total disability.” The Supreme Court also held “that while it is the company-designated physician who must declare that a seafarer-claimant suffers a permanent disability, the former’s declaration is not conclusive upon the latter or the court.”
Palisoc settled the issue of whether the Labor Code’s provision on permanent total disability, applies to seafarers. The Supreme Court held emphatically in the affirmative, and declared “(t)he issue of whether the Labor Code’s provision on permanent total disability, particularly Article 192(c)(1), applies to seafarers is already a settled matter”, quoting Remigio, Crystal Shipping, and other cases to support this.