Seafarer employment agencies are stressing the importance of updating best practice and benchmarking pay and benefits to help retain crew and shore staff
Key issues to help retain crew and shore staff were explored in the Tanker Shipping & Trade webinar: Training, retaining and recruiting tanker crew, post-COVID, which was sponsored by maritime recruitment specialists, Spinnaker.
Spinnaker is an employment agency guided by chairman Phil Parry, who describes its purpose as filling roles for those that wear suits in shipping. Since 2003, Spinnaker has been benchmarking shore-based salaries and runs the Maritime HR Association, which has almost 100 shipowners, shipmanagers, oil companies, and commodity groups as members.
This service has been extended to benchmarking crew salaries and in the tanker sector this covers 74 nationalities across 47 different seafaring roles from 47 different companies. “Benchmarking enables people to understand how to plan budgets and demonstrate to their staff, and to their staff’s unions, that they are paying fairly,” explained Mr Parry.
He added: “Benchmarking is not necessarily about paying the most, or paying the least. It is enabling people to understand where they are paying relative to the marketplace.”
Spinnaker also set up the Seafarers Employers’ Association in 2017, and as part of providing information and commonality, the company developed Daily Wage Cost Reports. This is the daily wage cost of filling a berth, and this enables a shipowner or manager to multiply up to month or annual, for the metric required.
Analysing the data at Spinnaker is reward manager Sandra Briegoos, who highlighted some key numbers. Spinnaker data shows that since 2017 there has been a 2% to 7% increase in pay for senior officers on chemical, crude oil and product tankers, compared to a 3% to 6% increase for those in the bulk sector. Spinnaker also noted that the majority of companies review pay annually.
Ms Briegoos said: “Pay is only one component of it. And we poll our members on information of what produces the package. We gather information on such things as pensions, training, education, and that information is readily available to our members so that they can see what other members in the market are offering their seafarers.”
Interorient Ship Management’s group fleet personnel manager, Mark Parrotte, examined the practical impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on seafarers in the tanker sector. He noted that quarantine and vaccination compliance with national and local travel restrictions is still the main issue and that the pandemic is far from over.
“People leave the best paid jobs because they are fed up and unhappy”
“For seafarers at home in India and the Philippines, it is difficult to maintain that compliance. In these countries sometimes they live in very close quarters and that makes it very difficult to stay Covid safe,” he said.
He added: “When crew members do become infected at home, this impacts on their availability and their opportunity to get out to a ship and start earning money.”
When it came to recruitment, there was already some reluctance from the younger generation to consider a seafaring career before the pandemic. “We had already experienced difficulties with recruitment: piracy and kidnappings have increased massively,” said Mr Parrotte.
During the webinar question and answers session, it was clear that there was some expectation of signing on bonuses to attract crew back to sea. This was especially aimed at those who had to serve beyond contract and had since returned home. Mr Parrotte explained that there had been some reports that bonuses had been paid, and a general increase in the benefits on offer, but this was unreliable: “Eight times out of 10, we find out that it’s not actually happening,” he said.
Are you losing seafarers as a result of the pandemic?
No - 39%
Yes, we are losing senior deck officers - 44%
Yes, we are losing senior engineer officers - 6%
Yes ,we are losing junior deck officers - 0%
Yes, we are losing junior engineer officers - 6%
Yes, we are losing ratings - 5%
One problem brought about by Covid-19 was the cost of crew change. “We are seeing crew changes that cost 10 times what they normally would,” he said. This has an impact on the overall crew costs and ultimately, the bottom line of the company, he noted.
He also flagged the issue of loyalty. A lot has been asked of crew and their loyalty is being tested. Mr Parry added that this a point that can be addressed by the benchmarking: “Our view about benchmarking is that it is to the point where you can take pay off the table. As long as you are paying fairly, and you can demonstrate to your staff that you are paying fairly; it is not about paying the best – nobody wants to get paid the worst,” he said.
He added that once the issue of pay and pay comparison is resolved, the other issues can be looked at. He noted that it was a truism that, “People leave the best paid jobs because they are fed up and unhappy,” he said, adding, “They do not like their bosses and they do not like the culture and they do not like the way they are treated.”
Tanker crew retention:
Is not a problem - 20%
Was already a problem and has got worse due to Covid 19 - 60%
Was already a problem and has not got worse due to Covid 19 - 20%
Another aspect highlighting how crewing is becoming a more important issue is that Spinnaker is seeing higher salaries being offered for heads of crewing. Mr Parry noted that companies are placing greater importance on hiring the right person for the role.