Philippines: Seafarers Protection Act signed into law

People - claims

Published: 10 December 2015

On 26 November 2015, the President of the Republic of the Philippines signed into law Republic Act No. 10706, the "Seafarers Protection Act".

The act intends to protect seafarers against the so-called "ambulance chasing attorneys" who charge excessive fees to represent seafarers and their families in cases concerning claims for disability or death.

Under Section 3, it is prohibited for any person "to engage in soliciting, personally or through an agent, from seafarers or other workers, or their heirs, the pursuit of any claim against an employer for the recovery of monetary claim or benefit including legal interest arising from accidents, illness or death, in exchange for a certain amount which shall be retained or deducted from the monetary claim or benefit granted to or awarded to the seafarer or their heirs."

Furthermore, the act determines, under Section 4, that attorney fees shall not exceed 10% of the compensation or benefit awarded to the seafarer or his heirs.

There is also a provision under Section 5, that any person who violates Section 3 of the Act (Prohibition on Ambulance Chasing) shall be punished by a fine of not less than PHP50,000.00 (approx. USD1,060) but not more than PHP100,000.00 (approx. USD2,120) or by imprisonment of not less than 1 year but not more than 2 years, or both fine and imprisonment. The same penalties shall be imposed upon any person who shall be in collusion in the commission of the prohibited act, as described in Section 3.

The Act will take effect on 16 December 2015 although the Secretary of Labour and Employment, in coordination with the Maritime Industry Authority and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, were still tasked to promulgate the necessary rules and regulations for the effective implementation of the Act.

We have also been advised that criminal liability is limited only to violation of "ambulance chasing" or solicitation. There is no criminal sanction for violation of Section 4, concerning the cap of attorney's fees.

The Act's main goal is to promote the interests and welfare of the Filipino seafarers, protecting them from individuals who actively target seafarers and their families in order to pursue disability or death claims against an employer; and who in turn charge excessive attorney's fees. From 16 December 2015 the seafarer will not be legally required to pay more than 10% of the total compensation amount received, either by way of amicable settlement or by labour courts' award.

However, it is important that seafarers and their families are made aware of this new law, and how it is intended to protect their interests. We encourage members and manning agents to inform their Filipino crew about the act and its effects during the Pre-departure Orientation Seminar (PDOS).