A Tale of Two Industries (Part Two)
If any further reminder was needed of the gulf that separates the business suits from the boiler suits in shipping then the Pandemic has provided it with shattering clarity. Put simply, while seafarers languish onboard ship, unable to come ashore, life has been pretty OK for those of us who worked from home over the last 18 months.
A flurry of surveys lay the problems bare and illustrate the longer term problem that lies behind the temporary disruption; once the chance to change comes up, shipping could see more talent seek new roles in safer, fairer, more diverse and socially engaged industries.
The 12th Annual Maritime Employee Survey, conducted earlier this year by Halcyon Recruitment, the Diversity Study Group and Coracle Maritime reveals that most shore-side staff were happy with the way their employers have handled the Covid-19 pandemic, though discrimination remains a problem.
Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed think that their employer responded appropriately to the pandemic and 68% said they received support to work flexibly. The survey collated more than 1,000 responses from shore-based shipping professionals across all sectors, job roles and regions.
Chief executive of Halcyon Recruitment Heidi Heseltine said that the findings indicate that companies should work to support employees or face talent attrition as the pandemic eases.
Optimistic in its previous report that Covid would encourage employers to use the opportunity for positive change she urged employers to revisit their employee engagement as a priority. Fail to do so and when the dust settles and other employment opportunities open up, the industry could see a considerable amount of talent lost she said.
The pandemic seems to have fostered a sense of feeling ready to move on, according to the survey. Some 87% of respondents said they are either ready to move to a new role or are open to offers, a feature that might be due to the success of remote working.
Mistreatment of employees remains a problem with 51% of all respondents saying they are personally aware of discrimination within the industry. The three leading causes of discrimination were nationality (53%), gender (44%) and age (40%) but only half those responding felt able to raise discrimination concerns with their employer.
Seven in 10 people would like to see their employer do more to achieve a diverse, inclusive workforce, and 63% said diversity in the workplace is extremely important to them.
Heseltine also pointed out the contrast between the experience of shore-based shipping professionals and the severe challenges faced by those working at sea, a gap that appears to be widening as the Pandemic persists or worsens in some regions.
Conditions for seafarers were laid bare in The Mission to Seafarers latest Seafarers Happiness Index report which paints a grim picture of welfare, with overall ‘happiness’ dropping to an all-time low since the beginning of the Pandemic.
The report highlights the frustration seafarers feel from being constantly in the same environment due to the lack of shore leave. The report has three core themes; the ban on shore leave in ports, the continued delay in granting of keyworker status and minimal movement for crew which reflect the need for wider vaccination programmes.
The absence of freedom of movement and continued extension of contracts has dashed all the positive attitudes seafarers once had as boredom and irritation with many aspects of life at sea increase. One seafarer who responded to the survey mentioned having spent one and a half years without setting foot on land, highlighting the dramatic need for the industry to improve its response.
The ban on shore leave and the effects of being continuously onboard for prolonged periods has meant that physical wellbeing is being neglected. Seafarers who had been motivated to stay active during the earlier stages of their trips expressed feelings of lethargy, apathy and physical exhaustion months into their assignments.
While momentum around designating seafarers as key workers was once a positive topic of conversation, they now feel like this is off the agenda. As a result, concerns over wage rises, key worker status and the fact that seafarers have been indispensable but overlooked during the pandemic are back in focus.
Responses also reveal a worrying trend with reports of companies – namely manning agents – allegedly lying to crew, withholding pay, underpaying and even threatening seafarers – despite longer hours and rising workloads. Some seafarers reported having to work 11 to 12 hours daily, compared to eight to nine hours before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finally, the recent Seafarer Workforce Report from BIMCO and the International Chamber of Shipping sounded a familiar warning of a potential shortfall of officers. This is nothing new and Pandemic notwithstanding the industry has found a means to cope.
This time the growing need for certified officers is heightened by the same risk of attrition noted in shore staff. Meeting future demand for seafarers requires that the industry actively promotes careers at sea and enhances maritime education and training worldwide, with a focus on the diverse skills needed for a greener and more digitally connected industry, the authors find.
ICS Secretary General Guy Platten added that it would be necessary to address the real concerns that we could see seafarers turning away from careers in shipping, analysing and responding to trends in seafarer retention.
Even so, kind words about the importance of welfare, equality and retention ring hollow when so many seafarers are still trapped onboard ship, 18 months since the Pandemic began and with no immediate end in sight.