Friday, February 3, 2012

Seafarers contract; perfection vs. deployment

"x x x.

The petitioners argue that under the POEA Contract, actual deployment of the seafarer is a suspensive condition for the commencement of the employment.28 We agree with petitioners on such point. However, even without actual deployment, the perfected contract gives rise to obligations on the part of petitioners.

A contract is a meeting of minds between two persons whereby one binds himself, with respect to the other, to give something or to render some service.29 The contracting parties may establish such stipulations, clauses, terms and conditions as they may deem convenient, provided they are not contrary to law, morals, good customs, public order, or public policy.30

The POEA Standard Employment Contract provides that employment shall commence “upon the actual departure of the seafarer from the airport or seaport in the port of hire.”31 We adhere to the terms and conditions of the contract so as to credit the valid prior stipulations of the parties before the controversy started. Else, the obligatory force of every contract will be useless. Parties are bound not only to the fulfillment of what has been expressly stipulated but also to all the consequences which, according to their nature, may be in keeping with good faith, usage and law.32

Thus, even if by the standard contract employment commences only “upon actual departure of the seafarer”, this does not mean that the seafarer has no remedy in case of non-deployment without any valid reason. Parenthetically, the contention of the petitioners of the alleged poor performance of respondent while on board the first ship MV “Stolt Aspiration” cannot be sustained to justify the non-deployment, for no evidence to prove the same was presented.33

We rule that distinction must be made between the perfection of the employment contract and the commencement of the employer-employee relationship. The perfection of the contract, which in this case coincided with the date of execution thereof, occurred when petitioner and respondent agreed on the object and the cause, as well as the rest of the terms and conditions therein. The commencement of the employer-employee relationship, as earlier discussed, would have taken place had petitioner been actually deployed from the point of hire. Thus, even before the start of any employer-employee relationship, contemporaneous with the perfection of the employment contract was the birth of certain rights and obligations, the breach of which may give rise to a cause of action against the erring party. Thus, if the reverse had happened, that is the seafarer failed or refused to be deployed as agreed upon, he would be liable for damages.34

Further, we do not agree with the contention of the petitioners that the penalty is a mere reprimand.

The POEA Rules and Regulations Governing Overseas Employment35 dated 31 May 1991 provides for the consequence and penalty against in case of non-deployment of the seafarer without any valid reason. It reads:

Section 4. Worker’s Deployment. — An agency shall deploy its recruits within the deployment period as indicated below:


b. Thirty (30) calendar days from the date of processing by the administration of the employment contracts of seafarers.

Failure of the agency to deploy a worker within the prescribed period without valid reasons shall be a cause for suspension or cancellation of license or fine. In addition, the agency shall return all documents at no cost to the worker.(Emphasis and underscoring supplied)

The appellate court correctly ruled that the penalty of reprimand36 provided under Rule IV, Part VI of the POEA Rules and Regulations Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Land-based Overseas Workers is not applicable in this case. The breach of contract happened on February 1992 and the law applicable at that time was the 1991 POEA Rules and Regulations Governing Overseas Employment. The penalty for non-deployment as discussed is suspension or cancellation of license or fine.

Now, the question to be dealt with is how will the seafarer be compensated by reason of the unreasonable non-deployment of the petitioners?

The POEA Rules Governing the Recruitment and Employment of Seafarers do not provide for the award of damages to be given in favor of the employees. The claim provided by the same law refers to a valid contractual claim for compensation or benefits arising from employer-employee relationship or for any personal injury, illness or death at levels provided for within the terms and conditions of employment of seafarers. However, the absence of the POEA Rules with regard to the payment of damages to the affected seafarer does not mean that the seafarer is precluded from claiming the same. The sanctions provided for non-deployment do not end with the suspension or cancellation of license or fine and the return of all documents at no cost to the worker. As earlier discussed, they do not forfend a seafarer from instituting an action for damages against the employer or agency which has failed to deploy him.37

We thus decree the application of Section 10 of Republic Act No. 8042 (Migrant Workers Act) which provides for money claims by reason of a contract involving Filipino workers for overseas deployment. The law provides:

Sec. 10. Money Claims. – Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, the Labor Arbiters of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) shall have the original and exclusive jurisdiction to hear and decide, within ninety (90) calendar days after the filing of the complaint, the claims arising out of an employer-employee relationship or by virtue of any law or contract involving Filipino workers for overseas deployment including claims for actual, moral, exemplary and other forms of damages. x x x (Underscoring supplied)

Following the law, the claim is still cognizable by the labor arbiters of the NLRC under the second phrase of the provision.

Applying the rules on actual damages, Article 2199 of the New Civil Code provides that one is entitled to an adequate compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as he has duly proved. Respondent is thus liable to pay petitioner actual damages in the form of the loss of nine (9) months’ worth of salary as provided in the contract.38 This is but proper because of the non-deployment of respondent without just cause."