Many of the largest shipping companies in the world, fear they will not be able to recruit and retain workers, began offering unprecedented incentives for a job known for its notoriously poor working conditions and low pay. To deter seafarers from quitting their jobs, global shipping companies are handing out massive bonuses that will effectively triple or quadruple some workers’ salaries for the year in hopes of retaining workers to hire many of the ships they have purchased or ordered during the pandemic.
Sailors abandon ship
These two years have been difficult for the sailors who sail on the cargo ships of the world. The work is always demanding: employees spend months away from home, working up to 15 hours a day, in conditions that can be isolating and abusive at best. But during the pandemic, sailors who do everything from equipment maintenance to navigation have struggled to access vaccines and have been barred from disembarking in many ports around the world. As a result, some workers spent more than a year at sea without respite, working in conditions contrary to labor law.
During pandemics, seafarers’ happiness has dropped sharply, according to survey results collected by The Standard Club, a marine insurer that releases quarterly Seafarer Happiness Index. Although data shows happiness rebounding to pre-pandemic levels towards the end of 2021, the experience of working during the worst of the pandemic has prompted many sailors to say they want to leave their profession.
“We heard from many sailors, especially those aged 35 and over, that they had no intention of going back to sea once they finally got home,” the report said. “It is likely that there will be a growing shortage of seafarers in the years to come.”
Get back on board with big bonuses
Buoyed by record pandemic profits, many shipping lines are trying to entice their workers to stay with one-off bonuses. Maersk, the world’s second largest shipping company, has given each of its 80,000 employees a lump sum bonus of $1,000. Announcement from French shipping giant CMA CGM bonuses equivalent to eight weeks’ salary. Korean shipping company HMM promised workers bonuses of up to 6.5 times their monthly salariesplus an increase of 7.9%.
But the bonuses were even bigger among shipping companies in Taiwan and China. Evergreen, the Taiwanese shipping giant launch a regional contest when he gave bonuses to his workers worth up to 40 months salary in December. In response, fellow Taiwanese sailor Wan Hai increased its annual bonuses to total a full year’s wages plus $36,079 (i.e. NT$1 million). Chinese state-owned shipping company Cosco responded by giving workers bonuses of up to 30 months’ salary.
As news of the bonuses spread, Taiwanese shipping company Yang Ming attempted to allay the dissatisfaction of its staffwho had only received bonuses equivalent to eight months’ salary: “If everyone insists on comparing, I’m afraid it will only bring bad luck,” Yang Ming chairman Cheng Cheng-Mount said. at a press conference on January 5.
But, of course, sailors compare their salaries to those earned by their peers on other cargo ships. And shipping companies have highlighted wage disparities to poach workers from their rivals. In July, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), now the largest shipping company in the world, launched recruitment advertisements in South Korea for keep the sailors away from the HMM with monthly salary promises of $5,000 (about 2.5 times what HMM pays). Hundreds of HMM sailors took the bait.