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Reality check – bullying in shipping

Part One - demystification

It’s a subject that has been taboo for many years, but now with more emphasis being placed on mental health in the workplace bullying is now an issue that is still a problem  in the maritime industry, writes Samantha Fisk.

When we think of bullying we tend to conjure images of children in playground name calling or physical abuse such a punching or slapping, we do not necessarily think that in the modern world that we live in and as adults that this is something that we would come directly in contact with or even be involved in.

However, it seems that bullying is a dark topic that still exists for more than some in the workplace in the maritime industry and although it may not be physical the mental effects that it is having on some people are causing lasting damage, effecting those that have undergone it with social problems, along with relationship and work problems, as well as feeling generally isolated from the world.

Bullying is a subject that covers many areas and comes in many forms, whether it be based on gender, social status, race, creed or even what football team you support. It is  something that people can be fully aware that they are doing to also being involved in bullying and not being aware of their actions. As society changes, what we deemed as ‘okay’ language or behaviour in the past, may not be acceptable now. Jocular behaviour in the past, is now coming under the microscope of the behaviour of society and the impact that it is having. 

But, we must be clear, and sensitive to, is that there is a difference between what is deemed as bullying or harassment and what is perceived as over-reaction to situations, and that the industry still has work to do if it is to keep people with valuable skills in the industry.

One female Captain in the industry explains that bullying is a lot like workplace harassment, but it does not meet the legal standards of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She also adds that: “As a women, sometimes bullying is very blatant and at other times it is subtle (eg. micro aggression). While there are anti-harassment laws, women still experience harassment and bullying.” Bullying or harassment can also happen throughout a career and come under different guises, “I think many mariners have experienced bullying/hazing or some other sort of initiation”, the Captain adds.

To counteract bullying and to stop this behaviour for both future generations and our current seafarers more awareness is needed about this subject, which organisations such as Human Rights at Sea are now covering with a recent article published in February this year highlighting one such case study brought forward and clearly shows the actions and behaviour that constitute bullying behaviour by the parties involved. Speaking to seafarers that have encountered bullying or harassment, it has been deemed that there is not enough in place in the industry to prevent this behaviour from happening. Although the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has released guidance on eliminating shipboard harassment and bullying, more still need to be done to protect seafarers from this.

One ex-seafarer has highlighted action that needs to be taken by the industry to eliminate harassment and bullying in the workplace is that: “Training on how to recognise bullying and harassment, and on the steps that can be taken.  Strong support from the top down to indicate a zero tolerance, with meaningful interaction when bullying is raised.” Putting this behaviour to an end has only started to happen in the industry and awareness is starting to grow about mental health and the detrimental costs it can have to crew if their mental health is not looked after.

This important examination of bullying and harassment in the shipping and maritime space continues next week with a specific focus on gender related issues.

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