Forgotten keyworkers: the experiences of British seafarers during the COVID-19 pandemic

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During the COVID-19 pandemic the United Kingdom (UK) Government designated seafarers as keyworkers. This article explores their experiences in an industry operating under international legislation designed to ensure and maintain their employment and working conditions. Three hundred and fifty-two British seafarers completed an online questionnaire. The findings revealed two key themes: the erosion of the terms and conditions of those who work at sea, and the differing experiences of those who were precariously employed on single voyage contracts in comparison to those in permanent employment. In contrast with precariously employed individuals, more seafarers with permanent contracts were joining the vessel as normal and fewer were not being paid having been unable to join a ship as scheduled. In a similar vein, fewer permanently employed seafarers were adversely financially impacted during the pandemic. The article concludes that those with the weakest employment relationships have experienced the greatest challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic –– a scenario which was possible as a result of the limited enforcement of the regulatory framework intended to protect those who work at sea.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)272-289
Number of pages18
JournalEconomic and Labour Relations Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2022


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