Genoa – It is a conflict that transforms territories, seas, ports and the world of work into variables dependent on the short-sightedness of political and financial strategies of companies, in a market system based on competition between countries, on costs and social rights. A disruptive model that fuels a race to the bottom and worsens living conditions for millions of people, increasing fragmentation, precariousness and loss of rights. And at the centre, right in the eye of the storm, are seafarers, the sacrifices of seafarers and the unattainable gender equality, which is often consumed with the cancellation of women as persons.
The chronicles bear daily witness to how the pandemic has profoundly affected the quality of life of many workers. But those who have suffered most of all are seafarers, whose sacrifice has kept the world economy going at a very high price. Despite the efforts of many shipowners and crew management companies, many were unable to disembark for more than a year, some even for two. A huge sacrifice has been made by an enormous number of workers.
Last year there were more than 1,880,000 seafarers certified under the STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) Convention, including 883,780 officers and 997,540 ratings. Nearly 350,000 more than five years ago, but still insufficient to meet the demand resulting from the increase in the world fleet. According to the ICS, with growth of 2% per year from the yards’ order books, there will be a shortage of around 90,000 officers by 2026. This is therefore a vital sector with a strong growth trend, offering respectable salaries, but in urgent need of a series of rewards to ensure a better quality of life for its employees.
To stay at home, local elections were held in many municipalities last month, with the choice of mayors. But the seafarers on board could not vote, deprived as they still are of a fundamental right. Yet they are not convicts, but people who work for us.
But it is precisely from the Philippines, the country that accounts for by far the largest number, that worrying signs of disaffection are arriving, due to the penalising management of the pandemic. According to the ICS, the chronic shortage of highly specialised personnel capable of handling increasingly sophisticated vessels risks becoming unmanageable. To prevent this from happening, it is urgent that even a traditionally male-dominated industry like shipping sets aside organisational reasons and prejudices and takes all possible measures to ensure real gender equality. From 2023, seafarers will be required to have new skills to enforce regulations towards decarbonisation. It will therefore be necessary to adapt the STCW Convention as well, perhaps starting with equal opportunities.
It therefore seems essential to intervene in the time still available, with a view to a different social model, on the need for training and above all for a revolution in gender relations, to overcome the historical hierarchical separation. In the perspective of a radical change in the balance of gender relations and decision-making processes. Perhaps the secret is to let women know that shipping needs them, their skills and commitment. Overcoming gender diversity can only benefit and improve an industry that has too often proved resistant to change, both in terms of working conditions and environmental protection.