Absence without leave (AWOL) and unauthorized Shore Leaves
A shore leave with the proper permission is essential in determining compensation in the event something bad happens to the seafarer. The employment relationship with the employer does not stop but continues to be in force even when the seafarer is on shore leave (Susana Sy vs. PTC, G.R. No. 191740, February 11, 2013)
Shore leave is an ancient and cherished seafarers’ right that should not be denied except for compelling reasons.
Shore leave is defined as the period during which a seafarer is allowed to take a leave from the ship while the vessel he is working on is docked in the port. The period of the leave can vary from a couple of hours to a few days depending on the time the ship is scheduled to be on the port.
Shore leave is one of the basic rights of every seafarer. It not only gives seafarers the much needed break but also increase their work efficiency. The ITF pointed out that Shore leave is not a luxury. It is essential for seafarers who spend many weeks cooped up at their workplace, with only workmates and managers for company. Confined spaces and monotonous routine leads to acute boredom on ships. Living constantly under such circumstances results in stress, depression, and home sickness. Those who work at sea need to get on shore to access phones and the internet to contact family, to seek welfare, social, medical or psychological support if needed, and to have a break from the work environment. It is important to dedicate a considerable amount of time for recreational activities of the crew while the ship is on the port.
The seafarer’s right to shore leaves has been legally recognized. International Maritime regulations state that every seafarer is entitled to a shore leave, as granted by the master of the ship. In fact, MLC2006 mandates that seafarers shall be granted shore leave to benefit their health and well-being and with the operational requirements of their positions. Under the POEA-SEC, the seafarer shall be allowed shore leave when practicable, upon the consent of the master or his deputy, taking into consideration the operations and safety of the ship. A seafarer can be provided a shore leave as per the discretion of the ship’s master. However, the decision regarding the shore leave, as made by the ship’s master should only be based on orders from the port authority.
Nevertheless, leaving the ship without permission from responsible officers during working hours can result to disciplinary measures. Before a seafarer can be dismissed and discharged from the vessel, it is required that he be given a written notice regarding the charges against him and that he be afforded a formal investigation where he could defend himself personally. Section 33 of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration-Standard Employment Contract (POEA-SEC) enumerates twenty one (21) offenses which are considered valid grounds for dismissal.
One of the grounds of dismissal of seafarer identified is Absence without leave (AWOL) which is further classified into the following acts:
a) abandoning post or duty without being properly relieved
b) leaving the ship without permission from responsible officers during working hours
c) Entrusting to others assigned duties without authority of department head
d) Leaving the ship without permission
“AWOL” in general is being absent from their post without a valid pass, liberty or leave. In contrast, desertion is not measured by time away from the unit, but rather:
by leaving or remaining absent from their unit, organization, or place of duty, where there has been a determined intent to not return;
if that intent is determined to be to avoid hazardous duty or shirk contractual obligation.
When a seafarer commits such act of AWOL, he may be penalized by the master of the vessel with dismissal and be made to pay the cost of repatriation and his replacement. Additionally, an administrative complaint or disciplinary action against the seafarer may be filed before the POEA, who, after due investigation, may impose penalties ranging from suspension to delisting, depending on the gravity of the offense and the frequency of the violation(s).
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