In 2012 we predicted several developments in human resources for the industry. The one prediction that seemed like a sure thing actually fell flat.
There were some signs that consumers and large retailers were becoming aware of poor working conditions on vessels carrying their goods. In the recent past the sailor delivering ipads was as unknown and unseen as the one delivering road tar.
Working conditions in electronics and clothing factories are a common target for investigative journalists. The logistics and security of a ship make it a much harder target for a surprise visit to catch labor, or other, violations on video.
The truth is that the majority of ships and maritime facilities are reasonable places to work. Some developing nations and problematic ship owners have caused problems consistently enough that the public thinks these events happen on all ships.
Even a few events can taint a career path and maritime work is no exception. Inquiries from readers interested in a maritime based career often have a list of exclusions that they will not endure. Some of these issues are very valid, like the lack of communication with family. Others might seem frivolous, like an on board gym, but that’s just my opinion. There are plenty of places to do pull-ups and push-ups on a ship but a place to work out after a cold watch might not be a bad thing.
The public impression of maritime work does not live up to its potential as a career path. With some changes in standard procedures these jobs could be much more desirable.
Responsibility under the law is more changeable and vague in international shipping than in almost any other industry. When a ship owner, ship broker, crew, and registry are all from different nations the expectations for welfare of the crew are not always clear.
International and Sovereign law will be slow to change the conditions for sailors on troubled ships. From a safety point of view the situation is well under control. The areas that need to be expanded are the quality of life issues like privacy, communication, and cultural respect. Some of these quality issues can also be difficult legal situations as in the case of attorney-client or doctor-patient communications over company data systems.
Many of these rules depend on the country of registry. This is sometime known as a flag country, which means it flies the flag of that nation and also observes its maritime rules. Another name for this practice is called a flag of convenience which is quite descriptive and clear for a legal term. In these cases a ship flies a flag and is registered to another country for a short period of time to allow some special activity not allowed under the rules of the previous registry.
This technique is used for many legitimate and reasonable purposes but it is also used to manipulate the work hours and pay of crew members who sometimes work under several labor schemes during a route.
This is a recognized problem but the labor cannot be separated from the other flag of convenience mechanisms easily.
Labor issues often go unreported in all segments of the industry. While there are many advocacy groups and labor organizations looking out for workers, the situation tends to be one that plays out on the personal level. These interpersonal issues are being addressed for the first time in the STCW 2010 Manila Revisions.
There are a lot of questions about the value of these rules, but a better work environment could have unexpectedly positive benefits with little potential downside.
We missed on most of the human resource predictions for 2012 and that’s okay since we are all moving in the right direction. Maybe we will do better with our 2013 predictions.