Working At Sea: The Need to Attract More Seafarers

The P&O Iona has over 1,000 crew aboard

With the cruise lines resuming service and having to crew their ships in relatively short order, seafarers in all departments are in very high demand and the companies have to treat them accordingly, said Lena Dyring, director of cruise operations for the Norwegian Seafarers’ Union (NSU).

The spike in demand coincides with recruitment taking a back seat to other priorities over the past couple of years, which has slowed the arrival of new seafarers coming into the industry to a trickle, she said.

Various testing regimes due to government travel restrictions, port state and company requirements combined with many restrictions in the daily life onboard, where seafarers already work very hard, can make for a stressful environment. And this is very unfortunate, Dyring said, as it may make the proposition of working on a cruise ship less attractive just at the time when there is a need for new talent throughout the entire industry.

At Nautilus International, Danny McGowan, the union’s representative on the ITF (International Transport Workers Federation) Cruise Ship Taskforce, said that officers and crew are facing very different protocols to those they worked with before the pandemic, including restrictions on shore leave. “Seafarers can face grueling work and rest patterns, leaving little downtime. That makes the time off the vessel so important,” he said.

“If passengers can go ashore, crew must also be able to go ashore,” added Johan Øyen, chair of the Cruise Ship Taskforce of the ITF.

Other issues are quarantine requirements and pay when ships are not sailing full. “Ships sailing at less than 100 percent capacity could have a negative effect for those whose income is partially derived from gratuities,” Øyen noted. “And if crew has to quarantine, they will be paid their base salary but not overtime. And some crew who work 70-hour weeks, including 40 hours of base salary and 30 hours of overtime, could forfeit a big part of their income.”

As the pandemic passes, the basic needs of seafarers remain the same as before, that is, safe jobs that pay decent wages with fair working conditions, according to Dyring.

“Our agenda is full at the moment,” she said. “We definitely have some catching up to do following the pandemic and our main goals are as always to improve the terms and conditions for seafarers. Pay increases is one component of this, but there are also other important issues such as shorter contract periods onboard, better maternity pay, better insurance benefits, good medical care and sick pay and much more.”

At the ITF, Øyen said: “Ultimately, we want crew to be full-time employees. Now, they are on timed contracts, and when they go home on vacation, they do not have an employer. We also would like to see the sailing time reduced to six months at sea and then two months at home. That would be a good rotation.

“It is a long-term target, and we realize that. We have the MLC (Maritime Labor Convention), which is the skeleton, and we have the Miami Guidelines, which are under review, and would provide some muscle to the skeleton.”

“Cruise ships offer good working and living conditions, although there is invariably someone who will complain and that makes headlines,” Øyen said.

“The industry seems to be bouncing back and has exciting job opportunities,” said McGowan. “The challenge is for companies to make it attractive for seafarers to join – and stay – aboard cruise ships.”

Before the pandemic, the cruise industry employed about 260,000 seafarers and with the new ships being built, that number will increase to some 330,000, which means that with vacation rotations included, the total number of seafarers in the cruise industry could be more than 450,000 by 2027, according to Øyen.

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2021/2022

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