SC Affirms NLRC Decision on OFW Disability Benefits

While it is true that the Constitution is committed towards the protection of the working class from exploitation and unfair treatment, nevertheless mandates the policy of social justice so as to strike a balance between the avowed predeliction of labor, on the one hand, as the maintenance of the legal rights of the capital.


            In an August 2011 decision, the Supreme Court reinstated with affirmation the decisions of the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC which was reversed by the Court of Appeals, involving an OFW-seafarer worker. The case involves an OFW-Seafarer who opted to go home despite the normal results of medical examinations conducted by the Medical Centre at the UAE, on account of alleged work-related ailment, and thereafter filed a complaint without submitting to a post-employment medical examination within three (3) working days upon his return. The Labor Arbiter of the NLRC however dismissed the complaint on the ground that the OFW-seafarer failed to prove his disability and to submit himself to a post-employment medical examination by a company-designated physician, pursuant to Section 20-B of the POEA SEC. The NLRC affirmed the decision of the Labor Arbiter. On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the Labor Arbiter and the NLRC. 

On petition for review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and declared that, consistent with purposes underlying the formulation of the POEA-SEC, its provisions must be applied fairly, reasonably and liberally in favor of the seafarers, for it is only then that its beneficent provisions can be fully carried into effect. This exhortation cannot, however, be taken to sanction the award of disability benefits and sickness allowance based on flimsy evidence and/or even in the face of an unjustified non-compliance with the mandatory reporting requirement under the POEA-SEC. When the language of the contract is explicit and leaves no doubt as to the intention of its drafters, the rule is settled that courts may not read into it any other intention that would contradict its plain import.


While the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC, and the Supreme Court sympathizes with the OFW-Seafarer’s plight, they are, therefore, constrained to deny his claims for disability benefits and sickness allowanceabsent proof of compliance with the requirements set forth in Section 20 (B), paragraph (3) of the POEA-SEC. (Coastal Safeway Marine Services, Inc. vs. Esguerra, G.R. No. 185352, August 10, 2011)


The NLRC merely adheres to the basic policy that in protecting the rights of the employee, authorizes neither oppression nor self-destruction of the employer. The commitment of the NLRC to the cause of the labor does not prevent from sustaining the employer when it is in the right. However, it is a primordial rule that only in case of doubt in the implementation and interpretation of the Labor Code and other related labor laws, the NLRC always resolved the same in favor of labor, in order to give effect to the policy of the State to afford full protection to labor.



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