The global COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how important seafarers are to the supply chain, making it vital that they are recognised as key workers .
Tim Springett (Policy Director, Employment and Legal) and
Melanie White (Policy Advisor), UK Chamber of Shipping on Safety and Crew Welfare
ONE OF OUR ESSENTIAL UNDERTAKINGS AT THE UK CHAMBER OF SHIPPING OVER THE PAST YEAR HAS BEEN TO ENSURE GREATER VISIBILITY OF SEAFARERS.
Covid-19 has really brought to the forefront how dependent we are on seafarers for global transport and trade, particularly when it comes to ensuring the smooth operation of the global supply chain for essential items including food, fuel and medical supplies.
Although there was widespread reportage on the disruption to trade and movement of goods, the needs of the seafarers themselves have often been left out of these conversations. As such, the UK Chamber of Shipping has been working to ensure that the human element is at the forefront of these discussions.
Our country’s commitment to seafarer welfare is demonstrated by the fact that the UK hosted an international summit to facilitate crew change in mid-2020 and has been abiding by the resolution that arose from this. This stands in line with the actions of the UN General Assembly and the International Labour Organization (ILO) which called for seafarers to be designated key workers.
While the UK and the European Commission designated seafarers as key workers fairly early on in the Covid-19 pandemic, this has not been true across the globe with this status granted in just over 50 countries, according to the IMO (Circular Letter No.4204/Add.35/Rev.2). This discrepancy has resulted in unstable and constantly reassessed conditions during the course of the pandemic. For instance, the recent pre-Christmas ban on seafarers implemented by a number of countries meant that British crew were unable to enter these territories and were left in limbo.
The key worker designation is critical to supporting seafarers carrying out their duties and ensuring good mental health and wellbeing. It not only facilitates travel for crew changes and is vital for shore leave, but also grants exemptions from quarantine and allows their children to go to school even during lockdowns so they are safely cared for.
It is also significant in getting seafarers prioritised for vaccinations, which is something that we have been working on with the Department of Transport. Seafarers are integral to the supply chain of vaccine distribution so it makes sense to ensure that they are kept safe and their ability to work continues unencumbered. We must also ensure that those in the supply chain who work ashore are allowed equal access to the vaccine as their support work is as essential to the safe operation of ships.
While vaccines are being rolled out, it is important to prevent limitation of shore-access only to those seafarers who have had access to the vaccine, to prevent discrimination against seafarers from countries that aren’t as well-resourced, or have yet to designate crew as key workers.
It is also vital that long-term Covid-19 testing continues until the efficacy of the various vaccines has been proven so the seafarers are not incapacitated nor prevented from access to crew change and shore leave. Otherwise, we will face shortages of seafarers and disruptions to the global supply chain.
The UK Chamber of Shipping is part of an international task force that examines the prioritisation of seafarer vaccination and assesses roll out options, particularly for third country nationals and labour from supply countries. We are also collaborating with the International Chamber of Shipping and its members to ensure a cohesive global approach.
The pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on the mental health of crew, many of whom have been forced to remain at sea for far longer than their contract periods. This has been a longstanding concern for our members as well as the industry at large even prior to Covid, although the virus highlighted this issue.
We have previously worked in conjunction with the RMT (The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) and Nautilus International to publish guidelines on seafarer mental health policies for companies. In July 2020, we held a mental health webinar that addressed concerns for seafarers during the pandemic, drawing from a survey conducted by the Apostleship of the Sea, a maritime charity.
Speakers included specialists who discussed methods for providing support and care.
The UK Chamber of Shipping is due to publish ‘Practical guidance for shipping companies on improving mental wellbeing’ in the first half of 2021 as part of the National Maritime Occupational Health and Safety Committee. This document has been created in collaboration with maritime unions and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), and will offer employers the concrete tools they need to address mental health and wellbeing in the industry.
As the tone of company culture is almost inevitably set by management, these practical recommendations arm leaders with tools to ensure that a safety ethos is at the heart of all operations. There must be clear company policies that are implemented fairly and equally across employees and management, and through positive actions and engagements. This must be evident not only to crew aboard ships so they have confidence in the policies, but also to all shoreside staff.
We agree with the Chair of the Health and Safety Subcommittee that mental health and company culture in the maritime industry is a health and safety issue. Crew should be able to trust that they should not be asked to perform unsafe tasks and that reporting an issue will see it resolved and adequate support provided. Building confidence in the care provided by a company is extremely important. This can take place in a number of ways. Some of our members have reported positive outcomes from doing more visits aboard ships, through various apps and allowing crew members to access assistance through WhatsApp.
The UK Chamber of Shipping feels very strongly that penalising workers and negative safety reinforcement can damage trust and create a culture of fear. The goal here is to foster a company culture that allows seafarers to thrive at work. To that end, we are
currently in the process of updating guidelines on behavioural safety systems to offer comprehensive and effective measures for current conditions.
Safety will always be a concern that is likely to evolve and so we must keep updating to stay current with best practices, and this is where the UK Chamber of Shipping can come in and assist our members. We are very well positioned to provide information and practical support to build a better, safer, and more supportive environment for the industry at large.
Photo: Philip Nayra Deck Cadet – Safety
Photo: Capt. Oleg Khovanskiy Master – Safe morning of Safe day
Photo: Hugo Clech 2nd Mate – Boxing Club – Captain and 2nd Mate respecting each other