Why seafarers aren’t so happy

Written by Marine Log Staff
Seafarers Happiness Index shows that seafarers aren't so happy

Source: Mission to Seafarers

The latest Seafarers Happiness Index report shows what its publisher, the Mission to Seafarers, characterizes as “a notable decline in overall happiness.” Of major concern, a shortage of available drinking water emerges as one significant problem area.

This latest report covers the second quarter of 2023 and is based on a survey, conducted in association with NorthStandard and Idwal, with supported from Inmarsat. It measures the wellbeing of seafarers worldwide through ten key questions about their work and life. The latest report shows an overall fall in seafarer happiness from 7.1/10 to 6.77/10, compared to first quarter 2023.

In the period covered, April to June, happiness levels declined across all question areas, with the most significant drops seen in general crew happiness, shore leave, and workload, showing an approximate 8% decrease. Average seafarer happiness levels have now declined from a high of 7.69/10 in Q4 2022 to 7.1/10 in Q1 2023, and now 6.77/10 in Q2. In another marked contrast to previous years, happiness levels have not risen over the course of the calendar year.

In this reporting period, seafarers expressed their struggles at not yet seeing working and living conditions fully return to pre-pandemic standards, particularly in areas such as crew changes, time spent on board, wages, and shore leave. Other key issues raised by respondents included unmanageable workloads, limited internet access, and inadequate gym facilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed significant challenges for seafarers, including crew change delays, extended time on board, and declining wages, leading to worsened working conditions. Despite emerging from the pandemic, returning to pre-COVID conditions for seafarers has been difficult.

A major concern was the shortage of available drinking water. The Mission to Seafarers says that this requires immediate attention, as it was a common problem from those responding to the survey, despite being explicitly covered by the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC).

Rising global food prices have also impacted seafarers, with low company meal budgets and expense cuts leading to insufficient food supplies, sometimes for periods of up to 2-3 weeks.

Seafarers face limited opportunities for shore leave due to ongoing restrictions and company policies, negatively affecting mental health, job satisfaction, and welfare, leading to boredom, frustration, and low morale. Shockingly, some respondents have never experienced shore leave in their careers. Calls for standardized protocols and more shore leave opportunities persist. This issue needs to be addressed to provide seafarers with opportunities for rejuvenation and recreational activities ashore.

The lack of work-life balance and violations of work and rest hours are also common concerns, violating the MLC’s provisions. In addition, seafarers are concerned about their wages, with some reportedly being paid only once during their time on board, with subsequent periods considered “gaining experience” without payment, akin to modern slavery. Stagnation of wages in some companies over 15 years led to a significant discrepancy between compensation and workload. This underscores the need for fair and timely adjustments to wages, reflecting the true value of seafarers’ contributions to the industry.

In conclusion, says the Mission to Seafarers, the second quarter 2023 Seafarers Happiness Index report shows that seafarers are facing significant challenges, leading to further decline in their satisfaction with work and life at sea. Improving their wellbeing requires addressing these issues.

“It is extremely disappointing to read of contracts being altered or disregarded, leading to payment issues, salary cuts, rising taxes, and increased living costs, as well as such fundamental requirements such as good quality meals, access to shore leave and manageable workloads,” said the Rev. Canon Andrew Wright, secretary general of the Mission to Seafarers. “All seafarers are fully entitled to expect fair compensation for their hard work, dedication and commitment to keeping international shipping moving. It is incumbent upon all of us to address these issues and make the improvements required to enhance seafarers’ working conditions, wellbeing and job satisfaction.”

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