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Manning exec warns of massive job loss due to ambulance chasing

Manning exec warns of massive job loss due to ambulance chasing
Yashika F. Torib November 23, 2022

FOREIGN shipowners and ship managers have replaced Filipino seafarers with other nationalities because of the ambulance chasing problem in the country that is costing them millions of dollars.

This was revealed by Jessie Rex Martin, president and operations manager of Anglo-Eastern Crew Management Philippines, in an exclusive interview with The Manila Times.

Martin said the ambulance chasing problem in the Philippine manning industry is so bad that it continues to cause frustration and disappointment among many shipowners and ship managers around the world.

"It has compelled some of them to change their crews to Indians, Bangladeshis, Ukrainians, Indonesians, Vietnamese and other maritime labor-supplying nations. It has eroded their faith in the reliability and integrity of our labor dispute resolution system," Martin disclosed.

Republic Act (RA) 10076 or the "Act Protecting Seafarers from Ambulance Chasing," describes ambulance chasing as the act of soliciting, personally or through an agent, from seafarers, or their heirs, the pursuit of any claim against their employers for recovery of the monetary claim of benefit. In the Philippine maritime industry, ambulance chasers prowl medical clinics, airports and streets to find potential seafarer claimants.

Speaking from experience, Martin shared that a recent case led their shipowner client of 10 years to take away almost 40 ships from their company.

"We have been supplying crew for more than 10 years for them, and just because of a single, outrageously unreasonable award given by slanted labor arbitrators, they took away 40 of their ships from us," he said.

Martin explained that shipowners are prepared to pay awards for genuine cases to the crew who contracted illness or injury while on duty but get frustrated if awards are given to fraudulent claims.

"Shipowners are disenfranchised by our system's inability to enforce and restitute decisions handed down by our highest courts and reversing or modifying erroneous awards by the Arbitration tribunals. This means a lot to the shipowners in terms of faith in the reliability of our laws [as a refuge] in the jurisdiction where they conduct business. We are losing seafarers' jobs to other nationalities because many shipowners are frustrated and have lost faith in our government's ability to provide them a level playing field to do business," he maintained.

Martin emphasized that while Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo's pronouncement on disbarring ambulance-chasing lawyers gave ample attention to the plight of seafarers, culprits are yet to be identified.

He claimed that certain labor arbitrators are selling their decisions while ambulance chasers serve as middlemen to exploit seafarers who allow themselves to be used as instruments to file fake injuries or illnesses.

"This modus operandi should be clearly captured and presented," Martin said.

He explained that ambulance chasing increases operating expenses for ship owners, thus driving them to choose other nationalities where they do not have to face the same risk of exposure to fraudulent crew claims.

"If awards given to seafarers could no longer be recovered following the reversal of a decision by the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals, the Protection and Indemnity (P&I) Club will record that unrecovered amount as a loss attributable to Crew Risks. This 'Claims Loss Ratio' goes up therefore they will be required to pay a higher premium for every ship he owns. This translates to a higher operating expense," he furthered.

He added that this only proves RA 10076 is ineffective.

Martin said: "Corrupt labor arbitrators and ambulance chasers simply laugh at that. There is an urgent need to repeal the 'final and executory' nature of arbitration awards as contained in our existing labor laws. This is being exploited. If we place an escrow that will be released only after the final decision of appellate courts is rendered, this will curb, if not completely cut off, the lifeline of the ambulance-chasing activity and it will regain the confidence of shipowners to employ Filipino seafarers again to man their ships."

"The loss of seafaring jobs to other nationalities will be contained and we could again reemerge as the dominant maritime labor supplier to the international shipping fleet as we used to enjoy along with the economic benefits," he concluded.