The employment relationship with the employer does not cease when a seafarer is on shore leave, as established in the case of Susana Sy vs. PTC (G.R. No. 191740, February 11, 2013).
Shore leave is defined as the period when a seafarer can take a break from the ship while it is docked in a port. The duration of this leave can vary, ranging from a few hours to several days, depending on the ship’s schedule at the port.
International maritime regulations dictate that every seafarer is entitled to shore leave, granted by the ship’s master in coordination with the port authority.
The Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC2006) mandates that seafarers must be granted shore leave to address their physical and mental well-being and to fulfill the operational requirements of their roles.
This provides a respite from the work environment and helps meet recreational and welfare needs, ultimately enhancing work efficiency.
The absence of shore leave, preventing seafarers from accessing social respite and a change of scenery, has a detrimental impact on mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected shore leave, leading to extended periods of confinement for crews on their ships without relief.
According to the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) standard employment contract, seafarers should be allowed shore leave when practicable, with the consent of the ship’s master or deputy, considering the ship’s operations and safety.
However, leaving the ship without permission during working hours may result in disciplinary measures.
Before dismissing a seafarer from the vessel, written notice of the charges must be given, and the seafarer must have the opportunity for a formal investigation to defend themselves.
Under the DMW contract, “Absence without Leave (AWOL)” is a ground for dismissal, encompassing various acts: (a) abandoning post or duty without proper relief, (b) leaving the ship without permission during working hours, (c) assigning duties to others without department head’s authority, and (d) leaving the ship without permission.
“AWOL” generally refers to being absent from one’s post without proper authorization. In contrast, desertion is determined by the intent to not return to one’s unit, organization, or place of duty, often to avoid hazardous duty or contractual obligations.
For an act of AWOL, the seafarer may face dismissal and be required to cover the cost of repatriation and replacement.
Additionally, the DMW may initiate administrative or disciplinary proceedings against the seafarer, potentially resulting in penalties ranging from suspension to delisting, depending on the offense’s severity and frequency.
In the Sy vs. PTC case, the Supreme Court emphasized that for a seafarer’s death to be compensable, it must be work-related. There must be a clear connection between the seafarer’s death and the performance of their duty.
In denying death benefits claims, the Court ruled that the seafarer’s death, which occurred during shore leave due to drowning, was not brought about by a risk specific to their employment but was related to a personal activity.
In the case of Transglobal Maritime Agency, Inc. v. Chua (G.R. No. 222430, August 30, 2017), the Supreme Court determined that dismissal was an overly severe penalty for supposed disobedience.
The seafarers explained their delayed return from shore leave was due to a contracted vehicle problem. They promptly reported to the ship’s office to return passports and documents. However, the ship captain’s reaction was based on a misunderstanding. The Court ruled that the company failed to establish wrongful intent in their disobedience and declined to sign the written reprimand, as they believed it contained inaccuracies.
Denying shore leave to seafarers who eagerly anticipate stepping on land after weeks or months at sea unquestionably violates their fundamental human rights.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786