A recent judgment in the Philippine Supreme Court appears to have set a precedent in seafarers’ claims in relation to the further protection often afforded by employment under a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). This particular judgment relates to a seafarer claiming employment under the Associated Marine Officer's and Seamen's Union of the Philippines (AMOSUP) CBA.
The case concerned a seafarer, Wilfredo Antiquina, whose left arm was injured after machinery struck him during routine maintenance aboard the vessel. He received treatment in Romania where he was diagnosed with an undisplaced fracture of his left ulna (lower arm). Antiquina was signed off at Port Said, Egypt and was repatriated to the Philippines for further medical treatment. Once repatriated, x-rays confirmed the injury and his arm was placed in a cast. After one month Antiquina was advised to undergo physiotherapy sessions, however, it became apparent that this had not led to any improvement in functionality and he was having difficulty straightening his arm. The company designated doctor advised that Antiquina undergo a bone grafting procedure, but he refused. He then filed a complaint for permanent disability benefits and was given a Grade 11 disability or US$ 7,645 based on the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) contract.
Antiquina also filed a complaint in the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) alleging that he was employed under an AMOSUP CBA which had a permanent medical unfitness clause (section 20.1.5, quoted below) which entitled him to full disability benefits of US$ 80,000. He presented two doctors’ certificates certifying to his unfitness to work:
“Permanent Medical Unfitness – A seafarer whose disability is assessed at 50% or more under the POEA Employment Contract shall, for the purpose of this paragraph, be regarded as permanently unfit for further sea service in any capacity and entitled to 100% compensation, i.e. US$80,000.00 for officers and USD$60,000 for ratings, AB and below. Furthermore, any seafarer assessed at less than 50% di(s)ability under the Contract but certified as permanently unfit for further sea service in any capacity by the company doctor, shall also be entitled to 100% compensation.”
Antiquina’s employers initially argued that the claim for permanent disability was premature due to his refusal to undergo the recommended operation; had he undergone this procedure than he would have been able to return to work.
Both the Labor Arbiter (in 2002) and the NLRC (in 2003) awarded full disability benefits of US$ 80,000. The respondents, undeterred, filed a petition for certiorari with the Court of Appeals. It was to be decided whether Antiquina’s allegations had been properly documented, a discussion point which had not previously been raised.
Antiquina was requested to document his claim and confirm his entitlement to the addition benefits afforded to those employed under an AMOSUP CBA. He presented to the Court of Appeals the following documents in support of his claim:
- A Masterbulk CBA which was between Masterbulk and a Singapore Union.
- His Union Membership Card
On review of the documentation it was apparent that the seafarer’s Union Membership Card had expired by the time of the incident and that the CBA was not an AMOSUP CBA as Antiquina had claimed. The CBA that was presented had pages missing, no signature page and also some pages were signed while others were not.
The court concluded that: “the petitioner had the duty to prove by substantial evidence his own positive assertions. He did not discharge this burden of proof when he submitted photocopied portions of a different CBA with a different Union.”
The Supreme Court awarded US$7,645 as disability benefits based on the POEA contract and denied claims for the additional entitlements.
This recent Supreme Court judgment has confirmed that the burden of proving entitlement to CBA benefits lies with the seafarer. This case has set a precedent for future claims. However as to whether it will, in fact, be followed in years to come - we will have to wait and see.
Wilfredo Antiquina vs. Magsaysay Mariitme Corporation et. al., G.R. No. 168922, First Division, April 13, 2011, Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Ponente.
Article by Tom Nightingale