The exploitation of the seafarer compensation system by ambulance chasing lawyers chasing money claims has become the biggest threat to the employability of potentially 400,000 seafarers, according to the Association of Licensed Manning Agencies (ALMA), a group of 71 agencies deploying around 174,000 Filipino seafarers at any time.
Maritime industry stakeholders said unfair money claims decisions pushed by ambulance chasing lawyers who solicit seafarer clients in exchange for a huge cut in the monetary award has been the main reason for the decline in the market share of Filipino seafarers in international vessels – from 45 percent in 1995 to 14 percent by 2015.
Cases filed by seafarers for money claims against shipowner-employers for work-related injury, illness or death are decided by labor arbiters of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB).
ALMA has called on the Department of Labor and Employment to exercise political will to address the exploitation of the system to ensure only quality decisions backed by actual evidence are rendered by the NLRC and NCMB and ensure that the Philippines establishes a reputation for a fair and unbiased legal system.
In response, NLRC public information officer in charge Purdey Perez said “there is no immediate and direct connection between the valid claims of seafarers and the loss of their employability.” He added that 65 to 70 percent of compensation claim cases are won by seafarer-claimants and insists that the NLRC always weights the evidence presented by both parties to determine the claims.
When asked for the NLRC’s safeguards against ambulance chasing, Perez said the NLRC limits the people allowed to appear in hearings.
The claim that ambulance chasing is the biggest threat to the employability of Filipino seafarers could be difficult to believe at face value, but the drastic decline in our market share in international vessels, from 45 percent to a mere 15 percent over a span of a decade is truly worrying and needs to be addressed. Whether it is caused by poor training or ambulance chasing lawyers, our government has to step in and do more to protect the employability of Filipinos in a field we should be excelling in.*