New Guidance on Eliminating Bullying


By MarEx 2016-01-25 18:43:35

Maritime employers and seafarers’ unions have joined forces to publish a new international booklet to help protect seafarers against bullying.

The Guidance on Eliminating Shipboard Harassment and Bullying was developed by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

As well as providing advice on company policies on reporting, complaints and grievance procedures, the guidance addresses the responsibilities of seafarers and their employers to use these procedures appropriately and for being aware of any harassment or bullying that might occur within the maritime workplace. This includes any instances of cyber-bullying.


The following may be found to be examples of harassment:

• Displaying or circulating offensive or suggestive material;
• Innuendo, mockery, lewd or sexist/racist/homophobic jokes or remarks;
• Use of offensive language in describing or making fun of someone with a disability;
• Comments about a person’s physical appearance or character which cause embarrassment or distress;
• Unwelcome attention such as spying, stalking, pestering, overly familiar behaviour or unwelcome verbal or physical attention;
• Making or sending unwanted, sexually suggestive, hostile or personally intrusive telephone calls, text messages, emails, comments on social networks, faxes or letters;
• Unwarranted, intrusive or persistent questioning about a person’s age, marital status, personal life, sexual interests or orientation, or similar questions about a person’s racial or ethnic origin, including their culture or religion;
• Unwelcome sexual advances or repeated requests for dates or threats;
• Suggestions that sexual favours may further a person’s career, or that not offering them may adversely affect their career;
• Leering, rude gestures, touching, grabbing, patting or other unnecessary bodily contact such as brushing up against others; and
• Spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone (particularly regarding age, race, marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and gender reassignment).


The following may be found to be examples of bullying:
• Verbal or physical threats or abuse, such as shouting or swearing at colleagues, either in public or in private, including derogatory or stereotyped statements or remarks;
• Personal insults;
• Belittling or ridiculing a person, or his/her abilities, either in private or in front of others;
• Sudden rages or displays of temper against an individual or group, often for trivial reasons;
• Subjecting someone to unnecessary excessive or oppressive supervision, monitoring everything they do or being excessively critical of minor things;
• Persistent or unjustified criticism;
• Making unreasonable demands of staff or colleagues;
• Setting menial or demeaning tasks that are inappropriate to the job or taking away areas of responsibility from an individual for no justifiable reason;
• Ignoring or excluding an individual from social events, team meetings, discussions and collective decisions or planning;
• Making threats or inappropriate comments about career prospects, job security or performance appraisal reports; and
• Spreading malicious rumours, or insulting someone (particularly regarding age, race, marriage, civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and gender reassignment).
• Shunning people at work and rebuffing their efforts to integrate with others if they are believed to ‘not fit in’;

Cyber Bullying

Cyber bullying can include inappropriate:
– Suggestive and unwanted remarks;
– Graphics or threat-centred, abusive emails;
– Postings on social networks; and
– Text messages.

Hidden Bullying

There are sometimes situations when excuses are made to define or refer to behaviour or situations between people at work which may involve ‘hidden’ bullying:
– Strong or robust management styles;
– A working relationship that is described as a personality clash;
– Someone being described as over-sensitive or unable to take a joke;
– Describing someone as having an attitude problem;
– A manager who has a low tolerance for non-safety critical mistakes which are made unintentionally; and
– Making fun of someone who has made a minor mistake at work.

Economic Factors

For companies, there are strong legal and economic reasons for eliminating harassment and bullying, says the guidance:
• It is a matter of good employment practice to foster a working environment in which seafarers can work free of harassment and bullying;
• Seafarers who suffer harassment and bullying can feel demotivated and are more likely to suffer from stress leading to absence from duties;
• They are also more likely to want to leave their employment, resulting in additional recruitment expenses for the company; and
• Some employees who have suffered harassment have brought successful claims of discrimination.

The important role of seafarers’ organizations in raising awareness of harassment is also underlined. 

ITF General Secretary, Steve Cotton, said: “Bullying and harassment in the workplace are unacceptable wherever they happen – but they have a particular horror at sea, where those affected may be isolated and alone, hundreds of miles from home. Until now there has been a lack of practical common sense guidelines and we’re delighted that we have been able to work side by side with the ICS to address this need.”

The guidelines are now being distributed throughout the global shipping industry via ICS national shipowners’ associations and ITF union affiliates. The authors are also encouraging their use by maritime training providers and other parties with an interest in promoting the elimination of harassment and bullying within the global shipping industry.

The guidelines have been launched in advance of an important International Labour Organization (ILO) Special Tripartite Committee on the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), to be held in February in Geneva, at which ICS and ITF will co-ordinate the representation of the social partners alongside governments.

Under the ILO MLC, governments are already required to satisfy themselves that their laws and regulations respect the fundamental right of seafarers not to be discriminated against during their employment on board ships.

The guidance is available here.