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Web Alert: Supreme Court case in the Philippines highlights the need for rigorous PEME testing

News & Insights 28 January 2016

The Supreme Court in the Philippines recently gave a judgment in a case brought by a seafarer, claiming full disability benefits under his POEA contract of employment.

The Supreme Court in the Philippines recently gave a judgment in a case brought by a seafarer, claiming full disability benefits under his POEA contract of employment.
Prior to embarkation, the seafarer underwent a pre-employment medical examination (PEME) and was declared fit for duty. After a short time aboard the vessel, the seafarer experienced weakness, severe fatigue, dizziness, and difficulty in breathing.  At the next port of call he was examined and it was recommended that he should be medically repatriated. Following his repatriation, the seafarer was referred to the company designated physicians for further examination, who declared him to be suffering from "Hypertensive Cardiovascular Disease" and "Diabetes Mellitus II".
The seafarer then filed a case before the Labour Arbiter for payment of full disability benefits claiming that his illnesses were work-related/work-aggravated. The company rejected the claim arguing that the seafarer’s diabetes mellitus was not work-related and that the hypertensive cardiovascular disease was a direct result of the diabetes.
Giving judgment in favour of the seafarer, the Supreme Court affirmed the  NLRC’s award of disability benefits and held that the POEA defines "work-related illness" as any sickness resulting in disability or death that arises as a result of an occupational disease listed in the POEA Contract.
The Supreme Court summarised its ruling as follows:
‘‘absent any showing that seafarer had a pre-existing cardiovascular ailment prior to his embarkation, the reasonable presumption is that he acquired his hypertensive cardiovascular disease in the course of his employment pursuant to Section 32-A (11) (c) of the POEA-SEC, which recognizes a "causal relationship" between a seafarer's CVD and his job, and qualifies his CVD as an occupational disease’’.
To ensure that crew members are fit for duty and to reduce the number of unnecessary claims, The Standard Club offers a rigorous and enhanced PEME scheme. As has previously been reported, this enhanced PEME seeks to provide members and their manning agents a greater degree of certainty as to the fitness of potential crew.
In this case there is little doubt that an enhanced PEME would have identified the various conditions the seafarer was suffering. Indeed, the medical advisor to the administrators of The Standard Club’s scheme confirms that both of the conditions noted above would probably have been identified by the club’s enhanced PEME examination with, in all likelihood, a recommendation of ‘Not Fit For Sea Duty’ being the final determination.
This case highlights the importance of conducting rigorous PEME testing prior to engaging a crew member. Whilst many seafarers already undergo PEMEs, some of the medical certificates issued are of questionable quality, and often contain certain deficiencies. As can be seen from the above, this can then lead to situations where crew are working onboard vessels when they are clearly not fit to do so.
If members have any queries in relation to the issues raised above or the club's PEME scheme they should not hesitate to call their usual club contact, or the authors of this article.

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