The seafarer employment contract (SEC) approved by the Department Migrant Workers (DMW) merely provides the minimum acceptable terms but he may also claim superior benefits if the employment is covered by an overriding Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
The SEC and the CBA govern the employment relationship between the seafarer and the company. The two instruments are the law between them. They are bound by their terms and conditions, particularly the mechanism prescribed to determine liability for a disability benefits claim. (B.B. v. Career Phil. Shipmgt Inc, GR 224127, August 15, 2018).
A CBA is a contract entered into by an employer and a legitimate labor organization concerning the terms and conditions of employment. Like any other contract, it has the force of law between the parties and, thus, should be complied with in good faith.
The seafarer will always have the minimum rights as per SEC but the more CBA beneficial provisions will override the SEC terms since it is an enhancement of the labor standards.
A contract of labor is so impressed with public interest that the more beneficial conditions must be endeavored in favor of the laborer (Teekay Shipping Philippines Inc., GR 244721, February 5, 2020).
In the case of OSM Maritime Services, Inc. v. Go (GR 238128, February 17, 2021), the Supreme Court ruled that if the CBA terms are clear and leave no doubt upon the intention of the parties, the literal meaning of their stipulations shall control.
The Court added that “a CBA refers to the negotiated contract between a legitimate labor organization and the employer concerning wages, hours of work and all other terms and conditions of employment in a bargaining unit. As in all contracts, the parties in a CBA may establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient provided these are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order or public policy. Thus, where the CBA is clear and unambiguous, it becomes the law between the parties and compliance therewith is mandated by the express policy of the law.”
The CBA special provisions must prevail over the SEC standard terms and benefits in consonance with the avowed policy of the State to give maximum aid and full protection to labor as enshrined in Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution (Legal Heirs of Deauna v. Fil-Star Maritime Corp. GR 191563, June 20, 2012).
In Ventis Maritime Corp. v. Cayabyab (GR 239257, June 21, 2021), the Court held that there are three requisites that a seafarer declared to be suffering from a disability, whether permanent or partial, must prove to establish his entitlement to superior disability benefits under the CBA; first, the existence of the CBA; second, the seafarer’s employment contract is covered by the CBA, i.e., the CBA is in effect or had not yet lapsed at the time of the seafarer’s employment; and third, that the seafarer complied with the conditions stipulated in the CBA, i.e., prove that the seafarer’s injury arise from an accident while on board the vessel.
In Sunga v. Virjen Shipping Co. (GR 198640, April 23, 2014), the Supreme Court granted to the seafarer who suffered an injury due to an accident the higher CBA disability benefits.
In Maersk-Filipinas Crewing, Inc. v. Malicse (GR 200576 November 20, 2017), the Supreme Court awarded death benefits to the heirs of the deceased seafarer, as the CBA provision on death benefits does not require work-relation if a seafarer dies during the employment due to an illness.
In NFD Intl. Manning Agents Inc. v. Illescas (646 Phil. 244) and Gambao v. Maunlad Trans Inc. (GR 232905, August 20, 2018), the Court declared that the seafarer’s sustained injury/illness was not the result of an accident but nonetheless ordered the payment of his disability in accordance with the CBA provisions.
The case of an injured seafarer who was hired as Chief Cook in CF Sharp Crew Mgt. v. Daganato (GR 243399. July 6, 2022) touched upon the issue on the applicability of the CBA that covers only medical conditions due to an accident.
The Court noted that an “accident” is “an unintended and unforeseen injurious occurrence; something that does not occur in the usual course of events or that could not be reasonably anticipated” in which no fault of negligence attaches to the seafarer.
The Court said that it is upon the employers, not the seafarer, to present the accident report in disability benefits claims. Employers, through their ship captains or officers, are expected to be on the lookout for accidents or mishaps, and prepare a report of the same. It is thus incumbent for the employers to proffer evidence that will negate the seafarer’s claims, considering that they are in possession of accident reports.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.