More than 40% of British and Dutch officers have personally experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination at work in the past five years, according to a survey conducted by seafarer union Nautilus International.
The figure is around twice as high as that for all workers in the two countries, and the problem generates low morale, depression, deterioration in performance and earlier decisions to come ashore, the report says.
Yet less than half of those who had been bullied felt able to make a complaint for fear that the employer would take no action or that they would be labelled troublemakers. Some even maintained that bullying was part of seafarer culture and should be accepted without complaint.
Of those who did complain, almost three quarters felt that their complaints were not dealt with satisfactorily. Sometimes the complainants ended up being victimised again. Almost two-thirds said that the company they worked for did not have an equal opportunities or respect in the workplace policy, something that would be a legal requirement for most shoreside workers.
“I was off with stress for three months and when I returned to work the company said that it was my fault I had been bullied. I have been branded as a pariah,” said one participant. “I have just about regained my confidence in who I am after three years and changing my job. I no longer work at sea because of this incident.”
Another warned: “Constant criticism for no valid reason inevitably leads to a hardening of attitudes and a why-bother mindset.”
The survey was conducted last year and is based on an unweighted and self-selecting sample of 539 union members who filled in a questionnaire on the Nautilus International website. Some 92% were male, and 8% female.
Despite this methodology, Nautilus believes that the research covers a broad spectrum of maritime professions, in terms of sector, seniority and personal circumstances.
Line managers emerged as the worst perpetrators, being blamed in 22% of instances. They were followed by colleagues (20%) and employers (16%). The main form of ill-treatment identified was bullying, seen in 29% of cases.
The open response section of the questionnaire saw many respondents detail the bullying of juniors and trainees by senior personnel, and was sometimes linked to nationality, racism, sexism, homophobia or prejudice against older workers.
About 8% of respondents said they had experienced gender discrimination and 5% reported sexual harassment, with a much higher proportion of such complaints coming from women rather than men. Indeed, 41% of women respondents said they had suffered sexual harassment, compared to just 2% of male respondents.
The vast majority of respondents said they had not encountered the industry-wide guidelines on bullying drawn up by the European Community and the European Transport Workers’ Association in 2000.
However, there were some positive results. For instance, when asked ‘how would you rate your employer’s commitment to ensuring that employees work in an environment free from bullying, discrimination and harassment?’, 39% replied either very good or good, and another 29% replied average. It was also notable that 81% said they always or usually enjoy working at sea.