”In crises like this, it is easy to forget normal work environment issues”

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The COVID pandemic struck with full force earlier this spring and as a result, a large number of seafarers have been given notice and made redundant, or laid off in the short-term. They have many questions, of course. Will I be able to keep my job? How will my finances be affected when I am laid off? Will I meet my colleagues at work again? In crises like this, it is easy to forget about normal work environment issues and psychological ill-health often thrives in the silence.

If you have done your homework in advance and carried out risk assessments and established routines for similar scenarios you have a head start, but if not, it is high time to start now. In addition to the direct risk of infection with COVID-19, there are a number of other risk factors that need to be addressed, such as how ongoing rehabilitation should be handled or how employees without a social safety net are affected by being home for a long time. For workers who have been given notice, there may be stress about uncertainty in the future. Some families may have lost their entire income and not everyone is not entitled to income-based unemployment benefit.

Shipping companies often offer to help employees who are feeling stress and anguish through the occupational health care system. The Public Employment Service and the Social Security Fund can also give financial support to those laid-off who need to change their area of work. In times like this it may be more difficult to see whether employees feel stress and anguish because they are not at their usual workplace, so more active outreach is probably needed from employers. It is possible to arrange a breakfast meeting by video or phone and talk about the situation and what measures and support resources are available. The employer or manager should maybe keep regular contact with employees and keep track of how they feel and how things are working out for them. It may also be a good idea to have short online courses or make investigations into the social and organisational work environment. Despite being laid off, employees can use remaining working hours for further training in work environment issues, for example.

This is probably only noticed when the employee is about to go back to work. In this case, too, it is good to be alert and make support resources available quickly so that employees can get rehabilitation and care.

There is a lot of information about the current situation and seafarers’ conditions on each trade union’s website, so that is a good place to start searching for advice.

Pelle Andersson/ombudsman at Seko Sjöfolk

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