PH seaman wins disability suit against shipping firm
MANILA, Philippines—Settling a 12-year-old labor case, the Supreme Court has upheld the awarding of $60,000 (about P2.5 million) in disability benefits to a seaman who suffered various ailments while working in a chemical tanker.
The Supreme Court Second Division ruled that Salvador Serna was entitled to compensation even if the he got ill only after he stopped working at the MV Hyde Park, owned by a shipping firm in Monaco.
Court records showed Serna worked for about a year as a bosun at the Hyde Park, which transports toxic chemicals such as methanol, phenol, ethanol, benzene and caustic soda.
Serna’s manning agency, Career Philippines Ship Management Inc., has been deploying him to chemical tankers for 10 years.
While on the Hyde Park, Serna experienced shortness of breath, weakness and weight loss. He was unable to get medical leave and had to wait for the expiration of his contract in 1999.
Unfit to work
After consulting with doctors in the Philippines over the next years, Serna was diagnosed with toxic goiter, thyrotoxic heart disease, chronic atrial fibrillation and hypertensive cardiovascular disease. He was thus declared medically unfit for further work as seaman.
In 2001, Serna filed before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) a claim for disability benefits as provided under the mariners’ union of which he was a member, with the manning agency and the shipping firm named as respondents.
The respondents, however, denied any liability, saying Serna’s contract was already finished and that he did not officially file a medical complaint while on board the ship. They said the seaman also signed a quit-claim after his discharge from the ship.
The labor arbiter, however, sided with Serna and said he was entitled to 100-percent compensation in the amount of $60,000 under the permanent medical unfitness provisions pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement of the mariners’ union and the regulations set by the Philippine Overseas Employment Union.
The NLRC affirmed the labor arbiter’s decision in 2005. The respondents appealed to the Court of Appeals, which also appealed the NLRC ruling the following year. The respondents elevated the case to the Supreme Court.
In their petition, the manning agency and the shipping firm said no substantial evidence existed that Serna acquired the illness during the employment contract and that his sickness was work-related.
However, in a 17-page decision penned by Justice Arturo Brion, the high court said it respected the findings of the NLRC, which is an administrative body that has expertise in the labor regulations. Such findings, when affirmed by the Court of Appeals, are generally conclusive on the Supreme Court.
The division chair, Justice Antonio Carpio, and members Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Mariano del Castillo and Jose Perez concurred.
“We are satisfied, from the discussions of the labor arbiter, the NLRC and the Court of Appeals, that substantial evidence on record exists to support their factual findings on this point. It is inconsequential that Serna’s repatriation was due to a finished contract as an employee’s claim cannot be defeated by the mere fact of his separation from the service,” the justices said.