ILO meeting agrees measures to attract and retain seafarers and to promote opportunities for women seafarers
Representatives from governments, shipowners and seafarer organizations, as well as intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, met in Geneva between 25 February and 1 March and adopted conclusions on measures to improve the attractiveness of seafaring for young people, to retain experienced seafarers, and to ensure diversity and opportunities for all, including women and groups vulnerable to discrimination.
Shipping carries over 90 per cent of world trade in terms of tonnage and the movement of millions of passengers. Qualified seafarers are essential to achieving safe, secure, environmentally sound and efficient shipping. This requires attracting quality new entrants and retaining experienced seafarers, including women and from other under-represented groups. A creative approach, involving the social partners and all other relevant stakeholders, is needed to achieve both meaningful and viable solutions.
“This meeting addressed the issues and approaches needed to ensure that the future of work in the maritime shipping sector is attractive, including for women and other groups vulnerable to discrimination, and that it retains qualified seafarers. Without them, shipping, the engine of global trade, could not function”, said the meeting’s Chairperson, Mr. Henrik Munthe, Attorney at Law in the Industrial Relations Department of the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise.
While there are many positive and attractive aspects to a maritime career, there are also challenges and issues that may dissuade young people from becoming seafarers and may cause experienced seafarers to leave the sea. The projected seafarer shortage, in particular of officers, calls for promoting good practices and addressing problem areas to ensure that there are qualified and motivated seafarers in the future.
Ms. Zulphy S. Santamaría Guerrero, Minister of Labour of the Republic of Panama, who served as Vice-Chairperson of the Government Group of the meeting, said “The Government representatives found it very useful to discuss these matters with each other and among social partners, and to formulate recommendations for measures that will help ensure that we have the qualified and motivated seafarers necessary to operate our ships”.
Maritime shipping, as with other sectors, is adjusting to ongoing technological developments. These include automation and digitalization, reduced crew sizes and the resultant potential stress and isolation, limited shore leave and changes in shipping operations and management. Developments in communication technology, such as internet access, including on the high seas, are generally positive, providing seafarers with the means to keep in contact with friends and family ashore, but these also may lead to less social interaction on board.
Ms Kathy Metcalf, President and CEO of the Chamber of Shipping of America, who served as the Vice-Chairperson of the Shipowners’ Group, said “We were able to communicate our concerns and possible solutions on key issues, and also to highlight good practices in our industry that could be emulated. This will help us in our efforts to ensure that shipping is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable, and therefore ready for the future with a view to preserving and enhancing greatest asset, the seafarer“.
Women are very under-represented in the seafaring profession, comprising only a small percentage of serving seafarers, and are therefore an under-utilized resource. While there are good examples of successful women seafarers, including women captains on some of the most modern cargo and passenger ships, too many women in the sector face such problems as discrimination, isolation and even sexual harassment.
“We discussed many key issues“, said Ms. Ms Lena Dyring, Director of Cruise Operations at the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union, who served as Vice-Chairperson of the Seafarers’ Group, “and I was particularly pleased that we had a good discussion, ending with quite specific recommendations for action, including through social dialogue, to improve the seagoing life for young and ageing seafarers, women seafarers and seafarers from other vulnerable groups.
The outcome of the meeting, including the note of its proceedings and conclusions negotiated by the three groups, will be submitted to the Governing Body of the ILO for consideration at its November 2019 session.