Seafarers feel wages are stagnating

According to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index for Q1 2021, seafarers’ satisfaction with wage levels is on the rise and has increased across a year of Index reports. It appears that when other big issues are going on, wages come as some comfort and there is gratitude just to be earning.

However, seafarers asked why, when shipping company earnings have surged, seafarer wages still remained stagnant? One said, “One would expect when prices for anything related to ships went to the roof, but salaries for seafarers stayed the same as 20 years ago. Isn’t that strange?”

Also, the Index did hear from some seafarers struggling to get wages owed to them, though they did indicate that with the support of unions and welfare organizations, they were hopeful of receiving what is owed.

It was interesting to note the impact on seafarer self-worth prompted by the Suez Canal blockage, the media focus on global trade, and the role of seafarers and shipping. This fired up respondents to question the levels of risk and reward. 

There were also points made about the importance of seafarers, and how this is not adequately reflected. “And now we have a single giant container vessel disrupted the Suez and shipping for days. Ask yourself how much a helmsman on that container vessel earn per month? Less than US$1,700. And on the navigation bridge, junior deck officer’s salary has not changed in a long time”.

While for now, most respondents seemed to be broadly pleased just to be paid, there were enough comments about wage stagnation to suggest a growing sense of frustration and annoyance. Repeated comments claimed that seafarer wages have remained roughly the same for an extended period while costs have risen drastically. This appears to be a problem and one which may bubble to the surface once the industry settles down post-COVID.

Even those who felt positive about wage levels found some cause for concern. “The salary is good, but not good enough for the time I missed home. Not to mention the work-related stress and pressure. I always have a thought to retire early and just be satisfied with the land-based work pay. Seafarers’ salary should be increased more, that it will be more enticing. As of now, I am considering working ashore”. This was a sentiment that echoed throughout the returns.

Other vocal criticisms emerged where seafarers felt nationalistic issues at play. With claims that low-cost labor was undermining the market, and concerns about, “a destructive cycle and race to the bottom with salaries”.

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