ICS-ITF guidelines on how to avoid cases relating to bullying on vessels

Recently published guidance from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) aims to assist ship operators and seafarers in recognizing examples of harassment and bullying and to tackle the problem before it escalates.

Norway-based marine insurer Gard reported that on January 8th 2019 amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC) entered into force that should better protect seafarers against shipboard harassment and bullying. The amendments relate to the Code implementing Regulation 4.3 ‘Health and safety protection and accident prevention’ and require governments to cover harassment and bullying when developing laws, regulations and guidelines for the management of occupational safety and health on board ships that fly its flag.

As well as providing advice on company policies on reporting, complaints and grievance procedures, the guidance addresses the responsibilities of seafarers and their employers to use these procedures appropriately and for being aware of any harassment or bullying that might occur within the maritime workplace. This includes cyber-bullying.

The guidance noted that crew members might have very different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and the organisational, and associated social, structure onboard was usually strongly hierarchical. An increasing degree of automation onboard ships has led to smaller crews, which meant that the presence of only one “difficult character” on board could easily change the atmosphere for the worse.

Gard said that it dealt with seafarers’ health issues every day, with ‘people claims’ one of the most frequently occurring type of maritime claims.

While ‘back and abdominal pain’ tops the list of causes for repatriating seafarers, the data provided very limited insight into the actual working conditions and safety culture onboard ships and how this might influence companies’ crew illness and injury claims statistics. In other words, asked Gard, could diagnoses such as ‘back pain’, ‘abdominal pain’ and ‘chest pain’ in some cases be psychogenic pain – pain caused or increased by a person’s reduced mental wellbeing from being bullied at work?

Gard said that claims data did not enable it to quantify the extent and consequences of harassment and bullying onboard ships. “However, although harassment and bullying onboard ships is fortunately the exception rather than the rule, we do know that there are seafarers out there with some upsetting stories to tell and that there is still room for improvement”, said Gard.