At Sirius Shipping, a good work environment has become a business concept. ”If the ship is good and people enjoy working on board, maintenance is done better, work is more efficient and customers are more satisfied. Investments in the work environment are a purely win-win situation,” says the HR manager, Per Barkman.
When Per Barkman started at Donsörederiet Sirius in 2003, the company had four ships. The fleet now consists of twelve ships that sail across the North Sea and the Baltic with oil and chemical products. The number of employees on board has increased to about 225, of which half are Swedes. This expansion has affected the entire company, not least Per’s work with crews. Apart from being given two new colleagues in the HR department, where he initially worked alone, it is a major challenge to keep close contact with the crews on the ships compared with the past.
”With fewer ships, things were more familiar and it was much easier to have personal relationships. Good contact with the crews is something we attach great value to and it is important that they always know they can turn to us and that we are here to support them.”
A good work environment and well-maintained ships have become one of the company’s selling points and whatever the swings in the economic cycle, the owners are committed to quality.
”The Backman family [the company’s founder and owner] does not se
e the work environment as a cost but an investment. Good ships mean that crews will take better care of them, which in turn leads to them being more reliable. A good work environment also reduces the risk of injury, and sick leave and staff turnover is very low. When the environment on board is discussed, the entire ship is included,” says Per.
”Because crewmembers both live and work on board, the borders between work and leisure are fluid. Sirius wants quality ships, and that covers everything from showers and shared areas to the bridge and engine room.”
The largest investments on board were made in connection with the takeover of the Dala company’s ships.
”They refurbished the mess, day rooms and changing rooms. On the deck, all pipework was removed so that it was clear to walk on and easy to keep clean. Many people wondered if it was really the right thing to invest as much as we did, but with hindsight it proved to be very sensible. These ships have now been replaced by newer ships where similar changes have been made. The ships are appreciated by our customers and they have become a major competitive advantage.”
Per Barkman has worked in shipping for just over ten years, but his path wa
s not direct. Among other things, he has worked with children and young people, worked in the healthcare sector, run a café in Åre and started a course in journalism. After studying economics at the Gothenburg School of Business, Economics and Law, he started at a ship’s chandler who delivered supplies and equipment to ships. It was his way into shipping.
”Among the shipping companies we worked with there were a few that seemed interesting, including Sirius. I called them up and that’s how I ended up here. Today I commute using my own boat between the offices in Donsö and Fiskebäck.”
In 2014 Sirius hopes to be able to start designing its first custom-built ships. As well as a clear environmental profile, they are trying to find good solutions for the work environment. Among other things the company is collaborating with researchers at the Department of Shipping and Marine Technology at Chalmers to design an ergonomic engine room that is easy to work in. But in recent years it has also joined ranks with the growing number of shipping companies that choose to sail under another flag. Today, all their ships apart from the LNG bunker Seagas fly the Danish flag. The change of flag has not involved any deterioration in the work environment area, says Per.
”The Danes bring more pressure to work environment issues and have more stringent requirements than the Swedish authorities. The company did not change flags to avoid rules or make things worse. It was because they wanted to work in a country with long-term maritime policy where politicians have a definite willingness to invest in maritime transport. But the dream is to have a Swedish merchant fleet and that we will be able to bring home our ships. We want to operate at home, in all ways.”