After a seafarer gets injured or sick and is safely repatriated, the best case scenario is the employee recovers entirely and gets back to work safe and sound. Sometimes an illness or accident has permanent consequences, leaving someone physically limited or disabled. In this case, the seafarer will receive financial compensation, as described in their employment contract or CBA.
Unfortunately some seafarers decide to file a legal claim to their employer, despite receiving the accepted financial benefits as agreed and accepted.
The Philippine authorities have set up an arrangement to protect manning agencies and principals against these practices. Employers can arrange a so called “walk-in-settlement” at the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). Here the seafarer has to appear in person to a Labor Arbiter. All release documents of the seafarer are submitted and signed for approval. The seafarer has to declare his voluntariness to the execution of the release documents. With these formalities, in the event the seafarer would decide to file the same claim again, the release documents would stand and the employer is protected.
This was normal practice, and then the Covid19 pandemic changed things.
The NLRC adjusted its procedures, and even limited face-to-face contacts for a period of time. Preventing personal appearance and declaration of seafarers before the Labor Arbiters to occur. Meaning parties are then simply required to submit notarised release documents accompanied by a dismissal motion.
This ‘Covid19 proof practice’ means a risk for employers, since the possibility of the seafarers re-filing their claim successfully on the ground of involuntariness or secret deals are conceivable.
AIM found a way to mitigate this risk, while still complying with the new formalities. Before submitting the release documents for approval of the Labor Arbiter from NLRC, AIM invokes another labor authority in the Philippines to initiate mediation and counseling between employer and employee. On the request of the AIM staff, the Department of Labor witnesses settlements and execution of quit-claims. The signed and duly witnessed release documents are then submitted to the NLRC.
According to Jerome Ramientas, president of AIM Manila:
“With two labor offices involved in the settlement process, the release documents would all the more stand any attempt in the future by scrupulous seafarers to re-litigate the same claim.”