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Stopping harassment on board superyachts

Why is the MLC's anti-harassment amendment important to the superyacht industry?

In an attempt to crackdown on harassment and bullying taking place across the maritime industry, amendments to the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) were brought into force in January 2019. Because of the negative effects that bullying and harassment can have on seafarer health and wellbeing, Regulation 4.3 now ensures that these issues are covered within the required health and safety policies and measures.

The MLC now refers to guidance on eliminating shipboard harassment and bullying that was originally developed by the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation. This guidance recognises that; “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”.

In order to help the industry tackle these issues, recently-formed Blue Star Standard International partners with captains, owners and crew to provide them with professional development coaching and training in the areas of leadership and communication, human resources and crisis management, as well as crew mental welfare coaching. Its training also covers the new MLC guidance on eliminating shipboard harassment and bullying, helping captains and crew to better understand each other and how to communicate effectively across different cultures.

While many in the industry still feel that the MLC is of little relevance on board superyachts, Blue Star Standard CEO Fiona Johnson feels that this latest amendment is very important to superyacht crew. “It’s one of those issues that multiple forums have discussed throughout the years but have not fully acted upon or had the measures in place to provide the guidance and resolve that this issue requires,” she explains. “This [amendment] has set a formal tone for leaders and those in positions of authority to take a more proactive approach to curtailing incidences on board and implement measures that are in line with the guidance.”

As a result, Johnson now sees the issue of harassment becoming a topic of conversation in the industry and finally receiving the attention it warrants, however, more needs to be done for any helpful change to occur. “It will take efforts on many fronts to properly address these issues and implement lasting change,” she adds. “Continuous care and follow up will be required on board vessels by management companies, who need to provide confidentiality and give seafarers the confidence they need to report an incident of harassment and bullying that they may have experienced on board.”

While the guidance has brought more awareness to the issue of harassment and bullying in the superyacht industry, whether it does enough to eliminate it altogether comes down to how management companies and responsible bodies choose to implement it. “What the guidance has done is provide the responsible [parties] with the firm work of what harassment and bullying means and the consequences it has had and will continue to have on yacht owners, and crew,” concludes Johnson.

“It is now up to management companies to provide safeguarding measures to ensure that all seafarers are operating in an environment that’s free of intimidation, discomfort, feelings of unease and humiliation. Crew need to be confident in reporting cases and confident that they will be heard and their concerns will be treated with urgency and respect. They also want the assurance that their complaints will be taken seriously and will be held in the strictest of confidence.” 

Here, Johnson provides some simple strategies that can be easily implemented to help eliminate harassment and bullying on board:

·      Implement clear procedures on reporting incidences of harassment and bullying;

·      Ensure confidentiality procedures are in place, that seafarers are aware that complaints of bullying or harassment, or information from crew relating to such complaints, will be dealt with fairly, confidentially sensitively and expeditiously;

·      Seafarers need to feel and know that they are safeguarded against victimisation or ill-treatments of the complainant;

·      Provide safeguards for both the person making the complaint and the alleged perpetrator;

·      Ensure that the parties to the complaint are treated with equal dignity and fairness; 

·      Seafarers must be made aware of what constitutes harassment and bullying and what are the various channels to lodge a complaint – the formal and informal processes and what these mean;

·      Crew need to know that actions will be taken to addressing these issues and that the alleged perpetrator and allegations will be properly investigated.

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Stopping harassment on board superyachts


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