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How to deal with bullying and harassment at sea – UK P&I comments

Sophia Bullard, Crew Health Programme Director at UK P&I Club, comments on how to deal bullying and harassment aboard ships:

“Over the past decade, we have seen an increased focus on the subject of harassment in the maritime sector. Campaigns to raise awareness, integrating fair practices and implementing guidelines for effectively dealing with the issue are all positive steps, however bullying continues to be a challenging issue in the profession.

“Seafarers are often perceived as ‘tough people’ in the field, but this can be a rather biased perception. Working at sea can make seafarers more vulnerable to harassment and bullying, due to the prevailing working conditions, the isolation, the tough nature of the profession and the fear of further victimisation or repercussions, if bullying is reported, as victims may be labelled as troublemakers or have their contracts terminated.

“As a result of this prevalence of harassment and bullying in the workplace, the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) has recognised the negative effect that bullying and harassment can have on seafarer health and wellbeing and has voted to bring these serious issues under Regulation 4.3 – the health and safety protection and accident protection code.

“Harassment includes any inappropriate and unwelcome conduct, which, whether intentionally or not, creates feelings of unease, humiliation, embarrassment or discomfort for the recipient. Bullying is a particular form of harassment that includes hostile or vindictive behaviour, which can cause the recipient to feel threatened or intimidated.

“Companies and management can be the primary active agents of change by adopting a zero tolerance approach to dealing with bullying and harassment at sea. This can be implemented by:

• Establishing clear policies and procedures for dealing with harassment and bullying onboard

• Disseminating company’s policies regarding harassment to everyone onboard (in native language of crew members)

• Organising ongoing awareness programs, training sessions, campaigns, videos, conferences and other media

• Establishing channels of reporting and actions to be taken when a complaint is filed

• Ensuring privacy and confidentiality to encourage disclosure

• Establishing clear job roles, and expectations and responsibilities

• Investing in ongoing training

• Applying fair and transparent processes for allocating tasks, job roles, etc.

• Educating everyone for early warning signs: when a seafarer looks sad, lonely, scared, isolated, not motivated, low performance, complains of physical symptoms, avoids social interactions, etc.

• Implementing emotional intelligence programs to encourage self-awareness, social awareness and conflict resolution

• Team building sessions, inspirational leadership trainings and cultural diversity working groups

• Organising activities to encourage social interactions onboard.

“Bullying and harassment are important issues in any workplace environment, and this is particularly true at sea due to the cultural diversity of crew and the unique pressures that they are exposed to. Increasing people’s knowledge around the topic can significantly decrease incidents of bullying and harassment. It is important that all shipowners and those in the maritime industry work to create a positive atmosphere on board, implementing informative programmes that encourage understanding, respect and emotional intelligence.”

This advice was compiled with the help of UK P&I Club’s psychological and psychometric screening partners I.M.E.Q.
Source: UK P&I Club

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