Shipping groups devise strategy to reduce crew harassment, bullying

Say goodbye, Captain Bligh. The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), in partnership with seafarers’ unions, have issued new guidance on eliminating shipboard harassment and bullying.

Governments are required to ensure that their regulations respect the fundamental right of seafarers to not be discriminated against during their employment on board ships. The new guidelines clearly explain what shipping companies, seafarers and seafarers’ organizations can do to help prevent bullying and harassment from becoming a serious legal and personnel matter.

This serves both the seafarer and the shipping companies. Employees who feel harassed or bullied may display stress, lack of motivation and reduced work performance, which can lead to absences and resignation. Harassment and bullying also can lead to lawsuits.

The 16-page guidelines itemize examples of harassment, including displaying or circulating offensive material; use of offensive language or lewd jokes; embarrassing comments about one’s physical appearance; unwelcome sexual advances or suggestions that sexual favors may advance a career, and spreading rumors or insults.

Bullying can include verbal threats, personal insults, excessive supervision or excluding an individual from meetings or events. Also included are examples of cyberbullying: suggestive or unwarranted remarks, texts, emails and postings on social networks.

The guidelines advise that harassment and bullying can sometimes be hidden through excuses, such as a work relationship being described as a “personality clash,” or someone being described as “overly sensitive,” “unable to take a joke” or having “an attitude problem.”

In addition to offering strategies to identify and respond to onboard situations involving harassment or bullying, the guidelines include language that may readily be adopted into company policy and informational employee pamphlets.

“Shipowners fully accept the need to develop policies and plans to eliminate harassment and bullying as a matter of good employment practice,” said Peter Hinchliffe, secretary-general of the ICS. “Bullying has serious consequences for the physical and emotional health of seafarers and can also compromise teamwork with negative consequences for the safety of the ship and its crew. The fact that ICS and ITF have collaborated to produce this new guidance is therefore a very positive development.”

Steve Cotton, ITF general secretary, said, “Bullying and harassment in the workplace are unacceptable wherever they happen — but they have a particular horror at sea, where those affected may be isolated and alone, hundreds of miles from home. Until now there has been a lack of practical common-sense guidelines and we’re delighted that we have been able to work side-by-side with the ICS to address this need.”

The guidelines are being distributed throughout the global shipping industry via ICS national shipowners’ associations and ITF union affiliates. The authors encourage their use by maritime training providers and other parties with an interest in promoting the elimination of harassment and bullying within the global shipping industry. 

Douglas Stevenson, director of the Seamen’s Church Institute and head of the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) delegation to the International Labor Organization, said port chaplains provide counseling and support to seafarers affected by bullying and harassment. He regards the new standards as essential.

“The guidelines are extremely important in bringing attention to the problem of shipboard bullying and harassment,” Stevenson said. “The ICMA is hopeful that the guidelines developed jointly by the ITF and ICS will help reduce this problem.”

The guidelines can be downloaded from the ICS and ITF websites.

By Professional Mariner Staff