The Maritime Office at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency is investigating the right to compensation and coordinating the rehabilitation of seafarers on sick leave. With its own office, service will become more personalised and flexible.
”Shipping is such a special case that it needs its own office,” says Mats Lindblad, head of the Maritime Office.
The maritime department is the only sector to have its own office at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. The office is in Gothenburg, but the department is responsible for all seafarers working on Swedish ships.
”Last week, two of our officials travelled around southern Sweden to hold coordination meetings and we even have the occasional meeting in Finland. Everyone has the same rights, regardless of where they live, and nobody should be disadvantaged by the fact that we are based in Gothenburg,” says Mats Lindblad.
”As soon as a report is received at the Maritime Office we try to contact the sick person. Usually it will be within a couple of weeks after the documents were sent by the shipping company and the sick person. In contrast to the normal Social Insurance Agency, where a coordinator evaluates whether sick pay should be granted and another then takes care of the matter, the seafarer is allocated a personal coordinator right from the start.”
”We always try to make contact as as early as possible with the sick person,” says Laura Koivisto, coordinator at the Maritime Office. ”We call them and explain what we can help with, and how we work. Our ambition is to always be a little faster than the normal office.
The role of the Social Insurance Agency, says Laura, is to be the spider in the web.
”We are responsible for coordination and managing contact with employers and healthcare providers, and arranging joint meetings. In the case of long periods of sick leave, we often need to draw up a plan for the person’s return to work.”
Training for work
Officials from the Social Insurance Agency are brought in particularly in cases of long-term sick leave and when special rehabilitation measures are required in the form of medical care or planning. A person cannot always return directly to full time duties after sick leave. In cases where it is necessary to have a gradual return to normal work, the Maritime Office can help to draw up a plan.
”If a person is on 50% sick leave during their return to work, it usually means working four hours a day, five days a week. But that may be difficult on board, because the ship could well be away for a week or two at a time,” says Mats Lindblad.
One variant that can sometimes be used, if the conditions are right, is occupational training.
”This means that the person works alongside the usual personnel, and can take a break for a while if the going gets tough. The person doing occupational training should not be subject to the same requirements as the others. But this can also be difficult to arrange because there may be quite long time periods on board. I must say, though, that we’ve got really good at finding solutions within our remit. Occasionally we have even let service personnel do their rehab at hotels ashore,” says Mats Lindblad.
Other tasks related to their duties may need to be reviewed in connection with sick leave, he goes on to explain.
”Such as what role a person has in the safety organisation. It could be time to give up the job of smoke-diver and work with the evacuation team instead.”
It may not always be possible to organise rehabilitation or finding workable solutions on board. In these cases, it is often very difficult for the person in question, says Mats Lindblad.
”Sometimes they just can’t be given a renewed medical certificate for seafarers. Often it is not a black or white situation, but a grey area, and my experience is that people want to try three times over before they realise it won’t work. Seafarers tend to identify very strongly with their profession.”
Mats Lindblad explains that the Maritime Office started working with the Swedish Transport Agency last year. The point is for the office to quickly and easily contact the authority if they notice any shortcomings that could affect the health of shipboard personnel.
”The Transport Agency has supervisory responsibility for the work environment at sea and can make that kind of inspection, whereas we don’t have the powers to do that. It could be a question of physical or psychological aspects, such as victimisation. In January we joined in with an inspection, which we hope was very fruitful for all the parties.”
Close contact with the industry is something that Mats Lindblad wants to safeguard. It’s not just about the Transport Agency.
”Cooperation with the union and employers is vital for us. We try to meet them and inform them about how we work with sick leave and rehabilitation even when we don’t have any cases that are ongoing. It all helps when the situation is live.”
Both Mats Lindblad and Laura Koivisto are convinced that a maritime office is needed at the Social Insurance Agency.
”We know about seafarers’ conditions and what their work is like on board. It makes things easier both for them and for us.”