SC upholds seafarer's right to post-employment medical checkup

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court has granted the disability claim of a seafarer against his recruitment company and its foreign principal – a ruling that upheld seafarers' right to demand from their employers a fully-paid post-employment medical examination.

In an 18-page decision penned by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, the High Court granted the $62,024-claim of seafarer Apolinario Zonio Jr against his recruitment company 88 Aces Maritime Services, Incorporated, and its foreign principal Khalifa Algosaibi Diving & Services Company.

The Court said $60,000 of that amount is for disability benefits and $2,024.60 for sickness allowance due to Zonio, who developed diabetes mellitus at work. The amount would be paid to Zonio in its peso equivalent at the time of actual payment.

The Court reversed the decisions of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and the Court of Appeals which had earlier junked Zonio’s disability claim.

The SC ruled that Zonio was entitled to permanent disability benefits and sickness allowance after he developed diabetes at work.  It also ordered 88 Aces and Khalifa Algosaibi to pay Zonio’s attorney’s fees amounting to 10% of the total monetary award given to the seaman.

Job-related illness 

In ruling in favor of Zonio, the Court cited the seaman's medical records that supported his claim that his ship duties led to his diabetes mellitus.

It also said after the seaman's repatriation at the end of his contract, the respondents had the opportunity to refer the seaman to a company-designated physician to check his health but it did not do so. 

The Court said that between “the non-existent medical assessment of the company-designated physician and the medical assessment of Apolinario [Zonio]’s doctor of choice – stating that his disability is permanent and total – the latter evidently stands.”

The SC said the recruitment agency was at fault for not granting Zonio’s post-employment medical examination. 

 “Having failed to present evidence to defeat the presumption of work-relatedness of Zonio’s diabetes mellitus, the prima facie case that it is work-related prevails,” the Court said.

Case

Zonio had worked as ordinary seaman on board the MV Algosaibi 42 for a 6 month-contract. When completed his contract in August 2010, he was not sent home as he directly entered into a new contract with his recruitment agency’s foreign principal, Khalifa Algosaibi.

His new contract lasted until April 2012, and he was then repatriated to Manila.

In 2015, Zonio filed a complaint before the labor arbiter against 88 Aces and Khalifa Algosaib for refusing to shoulder his medical expenses as his contract had ended.

In his complaint, Zonio said when he was still on board the  MV Algosaibi 42 in 2010, he had bouts of dizziness and was sent to the Salama Hospital in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, where he was diagnosed as having high glucose and cholesterol. 

He was given medicine and advised to observe proper diet and avoid stress, but two years later, in 2012, he again had bouts of dizziness accompanied by blurred vision. When he returned to the same hospital, he was diagnosed as having diabetes mellitus and dyslipidemia.

Since the respondents denied his request to pay for a post-employment medical examination, Zonio had to consult a private doctor in 2013,  who confirmed that he suffered from diabetes mellitus. He also consulted a municipal health officer who declared that he was physically unfit to continue working because of hyperglycemia.

Zonio demanded the payment of his disability benefits but 88 Aces rejected his plea, prompting him to file a complaint.  The  labor arbiter ruled in Zonio’s favor, so 88 Aces elevated the case before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). 

The NLRC reversed the labor arbiter’s ruling, prompting Zonio  to elevated the case the case before the CA, where it met a similar fate. He then brought the case before the High Court.  prompting the seaman to seek go to the SC. – Rappler.com