Voluntary Repatriation

1:00am Friday, June 9, 2017
By: Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

The employment of Filipino seafarers is governed by the Standard Employment Contract (SEC) they sign and duly approved by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) every time they are rehired and their employment is terminated upon its completion.

As a general rule, the employment of the seafarer shall cease when the seafarer completes his period of contractual service aboard the ship, signs-off from the ship and arrives at the point of hire.

Similarly, a seafarer’s employment contract is terminated even before the contract expires as soon as he arrives at the point of hire, one of the reasons included voluntary repatriation.

A seafarer who requests for early termination of his contract shall be liable for his repatriation cost as well as the transportation cost of his replacement. The employer may, in case of compassionate grounds, assume the transportation cost of the seafarer’s replacement.

Resignation is defined as the voluntary act of an employee who finds himself in a situation where he believes that personal reasons cannot be sacrificed in favor of the exigency of the service and he has no other choice but to disassociate himself from his employment. (Valdez v. NLRC, 286 SCRA 87, 94.)

In cases of illegal dismissal, companies usually raise as an issue the request for voluntary repatriation.

The Supreme Court ruled in a case that it is highly illogical for an employee to voluntarily request for repatriation and then file a suit for illegal dismissal. As voluntary repatriation is synonymous to resignation, it is proper to conclude that repatriation is inconsistent with the filing of a complaint for illegal dismissal. (Oriental Shipmgt Co., Inc. v. Court of Appeals, 480 SCRA 100, 110)

The Court likewise noted that the seafarers did voluntarily pre-terminate their contracts akin to resignation and no illegal dismissal.  It said that the telex message is a biased and self-serving document that does not satisfy the requirement of substantial evidence. In the absence of a written resignation, it is safe to presume that the employer terminated the seafarers.  As the dismissal was illegal, their repatriation expenses were for the account of company and could not be offset with the home allotment pay. (SKIPPERS United Inc. vs. Nathaniel Doza et al G.R. No. 175558, February 8, 2012)

The entries in the seaman’s book   cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered as substantial evidence to prove voluntary repatriation and lawful dismissal. The Supreme Court cannot rule otherwise for to do so may prove dangerous as all employers of seafarers will now be complacent in perpetrating indiscriminate acts of termination with the seaman’s book as their shield against culpability. (Barros vs. TransOriient Maritime Services, G.R. No. 123901 September 22, 1999)

The same defense is likewise normally raised in cases of claims for disability or death compensation.

A company’s delay in heeding the seafarer’s requests for his replacement and immediate repatriation cannot be denied. Its concern for convenience hardly overrides the seafarer’s urgent need for medical attention. Given these circumstances, it was not abandonment when the seafarer signed-off and disembarked for medical reasons without waiting for a reliever. (OSM Shipping Inc., vs. Antonia dela Cruz G.R. No. 159146, January 28, 2005)

Seafarer was not repatriated for health reasons as he executed a resignation letter.  His allegation that he was forced to execute such letter deserved no merit as “bare allegations of threat or force do not constitute substantial evidence to support a forced resignation”.  Also, seafarer’s record showed that he had also resigned due to domestic reasons during his last contract.  The seafarer is thus charged with awareness of the consequences of pre-termination, this being his second time to so request. (Virjen Shipping Corporation, vs. Jesus B. Barraquio; G.R. No. 178127; April 16, 2009)

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