The forgotten keyworkers: challenges faced by British seafarers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

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The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have been far-reaching and one important area which has been impacted is people’s working lives. Workers in many industries have had to navigate new ways of working and organisations have had to make changes to how they operate. One industry in which workers have carried on working much the same as before but in which new – and somewhat unusual – challenges have arisen is the international seafaring industry.

This research project used an online questionnaire to explore the experiences of British workers in the seafaring industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its aim was to consider the impact of the pandemic on seafarers and in particular to provide indicative summary evidence from which the industry could develop supports for its workforce at this most challenging time. In this report, we present a descriptive summary of seafarers’ experiences. We structure the findings around five broad themes:
1. Organisation of employment
2. Health and well-being
3. Recruitment, retention and career progression
4. Financial impact
5. Support

In doing so we present some of the experiences of an often-forgotten group of workers – totalling around 22,970 men and women – who at the outbreak of the pandemic, were designated as keyworkers by the UK Government (Department for Transport 2021). Given the fact that the UK shipping sector moves 95% of all UK trade it is clear to see why seafarers were considered key workers (UK Chamber of Shipping 2020). Yet, despite the importance of the shipping industry to the UK economy – and the importance of the supply chain as a whole – little attention has been paid to the experiences of these workers.

This report therefore sheds light on the experiences of British seafarers during the pandemic. In addition to this report an animated film highlights the key findings from the research project. This report and the animation will be further complemented by discursive publications which consider our key findings in greater depth for particular audiences.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSolent University
Commissioning bodyMNWB (Merchant Navy Welfare Board)
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


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