Actions to improve the social atmosphere onboard

In recent years, several investigations have shown the prevalence of bullying and harassment in shipping. Unwanted behaviour towards women increases their risk of mental ill-health and causes them to leave the shipping industry prematurely, according to researchers. An extensive project now underway aims to create a better social atmosphere on board and reduce women’s vulnerability.

The MeToo movement highlighted sexual harassment in professional situations. Women’s vulnerability at workplaces has been reported in several research studies and as recently as March the report Sexual harassment at work increases economic inequality, by the Swedish SNS association, was published. The report is based on data from Sweden Statistics and shows that both men and women run an increased risk of being exposed to sexual harassment if they are in the minority at a workplace. However, the risk of being affected is higher for women than for men.

During the shipping variant of MeToo, #lättaankar, many women shared their accounts of abuse and harassment on board, and their testimonies are supported by research. In the scientific article Workplace bullying and harassment at sea: A structured literature review  from 2022, the two researchers Cecilia Österman and Magnus Boström at Kalmar Maritime Academy showed that more than half of the women who work at sea have experienced bullying and harassment at some point.

Of the respondents, 38 percent of women and 16 percent of men said they had experienced abuse or harassment on board.

The Swedish Transport Agency has also investigated the occurrence of bullying and harassment among onboard employees. In the 2019 study Seafarers’ Living and Working Conditions (Sjömännens arbets- och levnadsvillkor), around 6,000 seafarers participated in a survey.

Of the respondents, 38 percent of women and 16 percent of men said they had experienced abuse or harassment on board. Among the women, such events were most often linked to gender, while age discrimination was most common among men.

The Redo project has also been ongoing since 2020. Redo originated in the collaboration for equal treatment in shipping called Vågrätt and is led by the research institute Rise in close collaboration with the Swedish Maritime Administration and other actors. The goal is to prevent bullying and harassment through concrete measures and create a safe and inclusive shipping industry.

In the first phase of the Redo project, the situation for women working on board was investigated. Among other things, the results showed that women who choose to leave shipping tend to do it for family reasons and the work environment. The project is now in the second phase, Redo 2, which will attempt to change the social work environment to make it safer and more inclusive. Five different work packages have been produced which are now being implemented in collaboration with shipping companies, nautical officer schools and other organisations. One of the measures is to train crew members to be conversation leaders, who will then work to prevent unwanted behaviour and handle difficult situations that arise.

We started on the icebreakers last autumn, where all the crewmembers were given basic training in the area.

“We started on the icebreakers last autumn, where all the crewmembers were given basic training in the area,” says Cajsa Jersler Fransson at the Swedish Maritime Administration, one of the key people in the Redo project. “Some of them, mostly officers and safety officers, have continued training as conversation leaders.”

In collaboration with Wista Sweden (the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association), a mentoring programme has also been started. Women nautical officer trainees in Kalmar and Gothenburg have been offered a female mentor who works in a managerial post in shipping to support them via conversations and their own experience. Another initiative is the “Annual Wheel”, which was initially developed by the Swedish Maritime Association’s equality group, currently consisting of twelve discussion exercises that can be used to create a better social climate on board.

“The annual wheel makes it easier to work systematically with these issues, just as you would with other health and safety issues. The third exercise in the annual wheel deals specifically with the OSA regulation,” says Cajsa Jersler Fransson.

Within the Redo project, there are also plans for changes in leadership training at the Maritime Academy in Gothenburg and with the support of lawyers, the legislation linked to parental leave for onboard employees will also be reviewed. Redo 2 will continue until the end of 2024, but there are already plans for a continuation.

“At the moment we are collaborating with five shipping companies, but more have contacted us and want to join. We are very pleased about this show of interest and hope that we can obtain new funds to further develop this concept,” says Cajsa Jersler Fransson.

Redo 2

The Redo project is led by the research institute Rise in collaboration with the Swedish Maritime Administration, the Swedish Shipowners’ Association, the Maritime Academy in Gothenburg and the MÄN organization for gender equality. Five shipping companies participate with their fleets and there is a reference group linked to the project which includes Wista Sweden.

Ongoing and future measures in Redo 2:

  • Conversation leaders: Onboard employees are trained in how to create a safe and inclusive work environment. The conversation leaders are taught how to prevent harassment and bullying and are trained in a method to lead difficult conversations. This training is carried out in collaboration with the MÄN organization.
  • Mentor programme: Run as a pilot project in collaboration with Wista Sweden (the Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association). Women nautical officer trainees in Kalmar and Gothenburg are offered female mentors who hold management posts in shipping. During the mentor programme, six meetings are held with different conversation themes as well as a six-month checkpoint. The aim is to make the programme permanent and run by Wista.
  • Leadership training: There are ongoing discussions with the Maritime Academy in Gothenburg on how to integrate the social work environment and equality issues into leadership courses for future nautical officers.
  • The Annual Wheel: Redo’s Annual Wheel is a development of the Annual Wheel created by Swedish Shipping, which encourages an inclusive workplace culture. Redo’s Annual Wheel consists of twelve exercises to increase awareness and understanding of social work environment factors and inclusion. The third exercise is specifically about the Swedish work environment authority OSA regulation, but thewhole annual wheel supports systematic work with the organizational and social work environment on board.
  • Regulations: This course is aimed at identifying any obstacles that may exist in current legislation regarding parenthood of onboard employees. It covers everything from compensation during pregnancy to the option of returning to work after parental leave. The course is led by a lawyer following a proven method developed by Rise to analyse laws and regulations in the area.
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