Bill limiting lawyers' fees on seafarers' labor claims sent to PNoy
A measure imposing a 10-percent cap on the amount that lawyers or agents could collect from seafarers pursuing legal claims has been sent to President Benigno Aquino III's desk for approval after the House of Representatives adopted the Senate version of the bill last week.
ANGKLA Party-list Rep. Jesulito A. Manalo, author of Senate Bill 2835’s counterpart in the House of Representatives, on Sunday expressed confidence that the President will sign the measure into law soon.
Manalo, whose party-list represents workers in the maritime industry, said the bill’s enactment is vital to protect the Filipino seafarers’ labor claims against unconscionable legal fees imposed and collected by unscrupulous individuals.
He said there have been reports of lawyers or their agents who charge seafarers legal fees ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent of their projected claims from their employers in exchange for pursuing the case.
“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.
Under the measure, the total amount that lawyers or their agents could collect from seafarers or heirs they represent should not exceed 10 percent of the benefit awarded to their clients.
The adopted version of the bill also penalizes “ambulance chasing,” or the act of soliciting, personally or through an agent, from seafarers or their heirs, the pursuit of any claim against their employers for the purpose of recovery of monetary claim or benefit, including legal interest.
Labor claims usually arise from accident, illness or death while a seafarer is working aboard a marine vessel. They are lodged before any of the following quasi-judicial bodies: the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC), the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) or its regional offices.
If the measure is signed into law, “ambulance chasers” will be penalized with a fine not less than P50,000 but not more than P100,000, or by imprisonment of one year but not more than two years, or both, at the discretion of the courts.
Aside from protecting seafarers and their heirs, Manalo said the bill will help ensure the viability of the Philippine maritime sector amid the foreign employers’ growing lukewarmness to employ Filipino seafarers because their lawyers ask them to claim more benefits than they are entitled to.
“[The scheme] leads foreign ship owners to no longer re-employ Filipino seafarers, likewise risking the possible decline, if not loss, of the annual billion-dollar remittances they bring into the country’s economy,” he said. —Xianne Arcangel/ALG, GMA News