The proposed Seafarers Protection Act is up for approval of President Benigno Aquino 3rd after the House of Representatives adopted the Senate version of the bill.
Under the proposed measure, total legal fees that may be charged to seafarers who are pursuing labor claims will be limited to 10 percent of the compensation or benefit awarded by any labor arbiter.
Rep. Jesulito Manalo of Angkla party-list, which represents the maritime sector in Congress, over the weekend said passing the proposed measure into law is vital to protect seafarers from unconscionable legal fees of 30 percent to 60 percent of a claim.
“Seafarers working on-board international fleets are known to be awarded hefty compensation and benefit packages by reason of the risk to their lives while working in the high seas. This situation then makes a seafarer an easy target for ambulance chasing, with legal practitioners having considerable interest in the monetary benefits that one may claim, and eventually be awarded,” Manalo explained in a statement on Sunday.
Ambulance chasing is prohibited under the adopted proposal.
It refers to soliciting from seafarers or their heirs the pursuit of recovery of money or benefit, including legal interest, from their employers in exchange for a sum, which shall be retained or deducted from the award to the seafarer.
Manalo, who authored the original House version of the proposed measure, expressed confidence that Aquino would sign the bill into law anytime soon.
If passed, violators face a fine or imprisonment, or both.
“There is a real sense of urgency to rectify the problem on ambulance chasing. Thus, to put teeth into the law, parties found in violation of the statute shall be meted a penalty of a fine of not less than P50,000 but not more than P100,000, or by imprisonment of one year but not more than two (2) years, or both, at the discretion of the courts,” Manalo, a lawyer, said.
The same penalties would apply to any person found to be in collusion in the commission of the prohibited act.
Labor claims arise in case of illness, accident or death and brought before the National Labor Relations Commission, the National Conciliation and Mediation Board, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Department of Labor and Employment or other quasi-judicial bodies handling labor disputes.
The House of Representatives approved the proposed Seafarers Protection Act in December 2014 and the Senate, last month.
The House adopted its counterpart’s version on September 30.