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Don’t let the bullies win…tips to dealing with aggression


Sadly it seems that all too often, seafarers are subjected to bullying or aggravation at work. There can be nowhere to hide if the atmosphere onboard turns nasty, and so the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC 2006) is set to include steps to act against harassment. What can you do if relationships breakdown?


Seafarer aggravation

Seafarer aggravation

At the 2016 International Labour Conference – the 105th annual meeting of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) – government, employer and worker delegates overwhelmingly voted in favour of approving amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, in order to better protect seafarers against harassment on board ship.

It seems likely that these new requirements will enter into force by December 2018 – unless any of the signatory governments decide against it. Which is something that would be very surprising. Finally, it seems that MLC 2006 is moving away from fixtures and fitting, from labour laws and standards, into the issue of soft skills, management and performance. It is now no longer acceptable to bully, harass, or punish. This is a massive leap forward.

The MLC 2006 amendments related to Regulation 4.3, the part of the code which tackles health and safety protection and accident prevention. The aims of the changes are simple, and there is pressure to eliminate shipboard harassment and bullying by ensuring that these issues are covered by the health and safety policies and measures required by the Code.

There have been a number of high profiles cases in recent years, in which not only has a culture of bullying pervaded, but it has taken even darker twists and turns. There have been murders and suicides on vessels which allow harassment. Seafarers are dying through bullying and the stresses and depression it can cause – so this development should be celebrated.



Recognise the problem

The new guidance on eliminating shipboard harassment and bullying has been jointly developed by the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation. Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, states “Harassment and bullying on board ships can have serious consequences for the physical and emotional health of seafarers, lead to decreased motivation and increased sickness and can compromise cohesive and effective teamwork.”.

Ryder also stresses that it is not solely about the ship – it is now recognised that harassment and bullying also have negative effects for companies. Where there is bullying, harassment and aggravation, there is a clear deterioration of working conditions and potential organisational, economic and legal consequences.

The group dynamics onboard ships with bad atmospheres and a breakdown of working relations do not make for a good ship. In the stress, fear and atmosphere of recrimination, this is where mistakes are made. Safety suffers when seafarers are intimidated, or are unhappy.




You can read the full ILO guidance via the following link: The guidance sets out to advise management companies and crew on the issues and how to handle the problems, while creating a better working environment, The guidance includes examples of harassment and bullying, outlines company policy on harassment and bullying, how to identify and report incidents of harassment and bullying and measures to eliminate harassment and bullying.

Under the guidance, harassment includes, “any inappropriate and unwelcome conduct” that, 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. It also causes serious detrimental effects to those who experience it, which may include:

• Stress;
• Lack of motivation;
• Reduced work performance;
• Absence from duties; and
• Resignations




All seafarers have the right to work without suffering harassment and bullying. Unfortunately, however, there are seafarers that are victims of harassment and bullying on board ships. According to the guidance, it is the responsibility of:

• Shipping companies to ensure that policies are in place for the elimination of all forms of harassment and bullying of seafarers on board their ships; and
• Seafarers’ organisations and seafarers to ensure that harassment and bullying do not take place.

For shipping companies the guidelines assist with the development of policies and plans to eliminate harassment and bullying on board ships. They encourage a process of involvement with seafarers and/or seafarers’ organisations in this process. There is also guidance on the legal and liability issues.

The guidelines also feature advice for seafarers, and the aim is to give information, reassurance and support, to assist seafarers to:

• Recognise examples of harassment and/or bullying;
• Identify incidents through the use of effective grievance procedures;
• Get involved in situations where they see other seafarers being harassed and bullied in the workplace to support them when necessary;
• Avoid bullying and harassing others;
• Report if bullying and harassment is observed or experienced;
• Apply and comply with the company’s policies;
• Use the company’s procedures on bullying and harassment;
• Seek help and support when necessary from seafarers’ organisations and other welfare bodies; and
• Appreciate the benefits of a workplace free from harassment and bullying.


Stop Bullying

Stop bullying

The guidelines are great, and long overdue. The modern shipping industry is not a place for bullying – things have moved on. But what can you do if you are bullied at sea? Stay calm, document everything and don’t make the mistake of thinking it is your fault!

1. Don’t Panic – try and avoid emotional reactions. Bullies take pleasure in emotionally manipulating people. Stay calm and try to rise above it.

2. Don’t blame yourself – Acknowledging that this is more about them than you is important. Don’t lose your confidence, this is just a mind game.

3. Build a support network – Other people onboard may also be suffering. Try to talk to people and find out what and why this is happening.

4. Document everything – The MLC will require companies to act – so a record of what has happened, when and with supporting evidence will be key.

5. Seek help – managers ashore should be able to help, even if those on the ship can’t or won’t.

6. Stay healthy – To stay on top of the bullying and to rise above it, you need to try and maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. So don’t turn to drink or bingeing on food. You can beat this, but you need to give yourself every chance.

7. Understand the Problem – Take time to understand what is going on, and also what the new MLC guidelines say.