The UK Chamber has been working to ensure that
seafarers continue to have freedom of movement
in a post-pandemic and post-Brexit landscape.
Tim Springett, Policy Director – Employment and Legal
and Melanie White, Policy Advisor – Employment
The maritime landscape – particularly in the UK – is experiencing considerable change and challenge. Two years into the pandemic, the supply chain is increasingly fragile as ongoing issues of heightened border restrictions and the crew change crisis continue to be of concern. This dovetailed with worries that Brexit would affect the employment landscape since the beginning of 2021 marked the end of free movement for nationals of EEA member state to the UK.
The UK Chamber of Shipping worked hard to minimise the risk posed by both threats. Our team liaised with the government and ensured that nationals from EEA states who had not taken up residence in the UK and hold frontier worker permits could continue to work within shipping. As a result, scheduled domestic ferry and ro-ro services, such as those between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, have continued to function with little or no change, allowing supply chains to continue unhindered. Given the shortages of HGV drivers towards the end of the year, this could have severely impacted UK trade.
We have also continued to work hard on behalf of seafarers who continue to face difficult working conditions as a result of the ongoing Covid pandemic. Despite two years having passed, the uncertainty that crew members face with regard to access to crew changes, vaccinations and other issues is far from over. This problem was particularly evident towards the end of the year when national maritime authorities reinstituted tightened border restrictions and barriers to crew change to tackle the spread of the Omicron variant. The closing of various boundaries placed an inordinate amount of stress on crew members and their loved ones, many of whom had been similarly affected by the turmoil of the crew change crisis of 2020.
The UK Chamber of Shipping continues its commitment to ensuring that seafarers are recognised as key workers so that they are exempted from travel restrictions. The ability of seafarers to join vessels, rest during shore leave and then be repatriated to their home countries is essential to ensuring that they can do their jobs and transport food, medicines, and other goods around the globe.
In April 2021, the Chamber participated in the Fourth Meeting of the Special Tripartite Committee of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) with the International Labour Organization (ILO), where shipowners, seafarers and representatives from over 100 countries were present. Attendees adopted a resolution recognising that seafarers are key workers, must be permitted repatriation in accordance with their contracts, and exempted from travel restrictions. They must also be granted prompt access to medical care when needed in ports of call. In 2022 there will be a further meeting of the ILO’s Special Tripartite Committee at which proposed amendments to the MLC 2006 will be considered to provide stronger guarantees of these seafarer rights.
Alongside advocating for keyworker status and freedom of movement, the UK Chamber has prioritised assured vaccine access and appropriate certification to prove vaccinations for seafarers. Although the Chamber recognises the rights of individuals to make decisions on whether or not to be vaccinated, there is strong anecdotal evidence that seafarers who have not been vaccinated, or whose vaccination records are not recognised by authorities, face considerable obstacles when attempting to leave ships.
There have been a number of instances in which seafarers have received vaccines but the procedure has not been documented properly. Without adequate proof that crew members have received an internationally recognised vaccine, these individuals are not formally recognised as having been vaccinated and may face onerous quarantine – and other – restrictions.
In order to rectify this potentially parlous situation, the UK Chamber is advocating for an industry-wide acceptable international proof of vaccination. This must be dealt with as a priority as the vaccination landscape is likely to become more complicated as more governments require booster doses to maintain safety and to mitigate the effects of future variants. Furthermore, booster doses may officially change what constitutes fully vaccinated status for seafarers, consequently changing the documentation required for crew. It is therefore vital that adequate provisions are made available, and that free movement and
supply chains continue unhindered.
The uncertainty around access to hurdle-free travel, access to shore leave, guaranteed medical care and proof of vaccination are some of a number of issues impacting seafarer mental health and wellbeing. Working alongside the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Nautilus International as part of the National Maritime Occupational Health and SafetyCommittee, the Chamber contributed to and launched ‘Practical Guidance for Shipping Companies on Improving Mental Wellbeing’ in March 2021. These practical guidelines offer useful suggestions that companies can use to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of seafarers.
The response to this information has been very positive, and we have seen increased interest from member companies who would like to maintain wellbeing onboard. We will continue to focus on this area in 2022, and are already in discussion with European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) to organise a joint workshop on seafarer mental health to share information regarding our approaches to seafarer mental health.
The increased implementation of mental health policies will likely increase the attractiveness of shipping as a career, increasing recruitment and retention possibilities for companies invested in seafarer welfare – which is extremely important given the negative reputational impact that the pandemic has had on shipping as a career. In particular, the industry must work to draw the attention of the younger generation who are integral to helping our industry achieve our future goals.
The Maritime Skills Commission (MSC) published a report in June of 2021, outlining 23 recommendations by an ad hoc working group on cadet training that are likely to have major implications for training. Cadet programmes must balance training in new skills that address emerging and future needs (particularly increased digitisation onboard vessels and ensuring shipping’s decarbonisation targets) against skills with decreasing relevance.
As the Chamber not only represents companies that train the seafarers of the future, but employs the seafarers themselves, our workshop in early 2022 provided an ideal platform for members to discuss industry requirements and reach a common view on what future skills and training must comprise, alongside a practical method of effective delivery. We will shortly be in a position to put our own proposals before the UK Government.
We are also continuing our work on safety culture. Although our 2020 safety culture conference was cancelled as a result of the pandemic, members were able to attend a two day online event in 2021 which focused on how good safety culture made good business sense. The collaborative attitude by attendees sparked a number of interesting approaches on how best to instil health and safety practices in company workforces. Our 2022 conference will build on this progress by looking at leadership and the role of the CEO in instilling safety culture.
We look forward to working with all UK Chamber of Shipping members over the coming year and building back better, safer and more efficiently.