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Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The case being made to reduce wages for Indian seafarers

Are Indian seafarers pricing themselves out of the market, and if so, what can be done? That was the question put to me and initially, with the accompanying data viewed in purely mathematical terms, it did appear to be the case.

For example, and all figures approximate, in USD and basis contractual wages per month or pro-rata. Indian officers are typically between these two figures.

Newly promoted Master/Chief Engineer: North-West European countries  / 13000 and Far East Developing countries  /  6500

Entry level 3rd Officer / 4th Engineer: North-West European countries / 5300 and Far East Developing countries /  2200

The argument or hypothesis put forward is that Indian officers need to voluntarily start accepting salaries closer to the salaries accepted by officers from the Far Eastern countries if they don't want to see themselve being out-priced from the market. Obviously, this does not take into account flag-state requirements, and applies more to open
register employment opportunities - though even some flag states are now relaxing this when it comes to employing foreign nationals on their ships.

This would be correct if the maritime industry was a simple operational industry, where the financial aspects over-rode everything else, and humans could be increasingly replaced by machines and computers. Or treat the sailor as sub-humans. To some extent, that is the way the industry has evolved over the past 2-3 decades, but there is simply no more elasticity left in the constant battle to reduce head-count on board by every means possible. How much more can the owners and flag states play around with so-called safe manning, before port states start imposing their own conditions, is already being played out.

If anything, as enquiry reports in more than a few accidents have shown lately, fatigue and lack of competence are the two biggest reasons going hand-in-hand while safety and efficiency take a beating. Certificates of competency and time-sheets are one thing, realities are another, and ship-owners as well as operators must realise that the issue is deeper than just salaries or rather the daily-wage kind of contractual numbers.

One solution would be for the same people advocating further reduction in head-counts to spend some time on board real working ships, as pursers, to try and understand the realities involved. And on terms and conditions as applicable to 3rd Officers.

Because. Then only will management, especially financial management, learn that the modern young seafarer, as with any other career professional, is looking for more than just money. There are two other very important parameters involved:- future potential and respect at the workplace. Nothing more needs to be said or written on how both these paramters have gown downhill over the last 2-3 decades.

Not that salaries have kept pace either. Compared with other avenues open to younger people, merchant navy salaries have not kept up. Simple as that.

Speaking with a few youngsters in the Merchant Navy on the subject, one can understand their frustration - managements tend to ignore the fact that their frontline operational staff expect more than just money. Leave alone a reduction in wages, many of them were of the opinion that even doubling of wages without improving working conditions and future potential meant nothing to them.

Which takes me back to the solution - which has to go back to basics. Tthe Indian seafarer was and should still be linked to the Indian flag ships. That is where the solution lies - there will be no dearth of very well qualified people willing to work for lower salaries as long as the other two parameters of respect at the workplace and future potential are met. Sadly, the Indian flag shipowners have defaulted on this responsibility terribly over the last few decades, and this needs to be resolved first.

If, hypothetical if, the Indian shipowners simply matched terms and conditions offered by the Indian Navy to theiir younger officers, then many of the same younger officers see no reason why a 20-year working life could not be something easy to achieve. With all the other benefits that accrue to shipowners able to plan for the future. And more.

The example of the coastal and foreign going Chinese flag fleet can be quoted in this context. The example of how many of us in the '70s and '80s chose to stay on with Indian flag vessels at lower salaries for the same reasons can also be quoted.

By all means, think about reducing salaries to make the Indian seafarer more competitive, but it can not be a stand-alone. It may sound strange, but bench-marking the Indian Navy for this is not such a wild idea - the two services have always been related and till not too long ago, the best who came out of the Training Ships actually went to the Indian Navy.

The rest, the not so best, or the better than most, take your pick, can then certainly work in the open registers.

And there, let market forces decide.


  1. To come onboard ships as pursers and observe the working conditions of board ! ..It is a hilarious thought, Capt Malik,. What if one slips away the owner as a purser true. ...And you know what 'respect' we *officers* (the Deck guys don't even think of purser as an officer) give to pursers :-P

    In my views, the proposition that Indian officers will boot themselves out of the job market is not so wrong, and the genuine causes are hidden in the general misconduct in our behaviours CULTURALLY. We have to come out of this syndrome of King and Emperor days ideas of Respect and Discipline. We need to open up and accept people of OUR OWN NATIONALITIES as we are.
    YOU KNOW WHAT, the biggest incompatibility of an Indian is against his own compatriot. Reason: a cultural expectations are 'desi' from them. WE want "respect" and "discipline". Problem with Indian concept of respect is that it does not allow Questioning, and it hesitates to go into Scientific Researches to get to the right answers. We look for cheap human-centered solutions for the Inter-personal troubles. Se suppress Inquirires, so suppress reportings, we do not investigate claims.

    We rose to high order in those times in the past when English Speaking was our Forte. It has changed now. Many nationalities are building up on this ability. We need to shift the skill of English Speaking to link up better and find real working solutions for on-board problems. ..the biggest set of problem , in my thinking, is the Inter personal troubles. In a way you too drop a hint of your acceptance of this problem when you talk of lack of respect and poor working conditions.

    Poor Working Conditions are likely a result of in-appropriate response to machinery maintenance because the Ship Owner will always claim that So far as the Ship Design is concerned it has come quite a success to bring good Occupational Health , and further there is Computer Based PMS to check on the maintenance of machinery condition. Unless the sea farer himself is manipulatiing the computer PMS records, or mis-reporting the works he has performed, or not reporting the faults observed, WE (the ship owners) are not responsible for 'poor working conditions'. The cause further may be the Officer-Ship Staff clashes, poor and untimely management of defects when the Vetting and PSC Inspections are around.
    Ship Owner might claim that Budget Constraints should be honoured and that they are spending due amount on maintenance as scientifically worked out for running a ship. Please stop lobbying around increasing the budget. Give the ship owners scientific reasoning of how much should be the appropriate Budget for maintenance so that he may accordingly calculate the freight rates.

    Our conduct is the real hidden cause of our dismissal performance. We must wake up.

  2. Even for the hypothesis that "tend to ignore the fact that their frontline operational staff expect more than just money. Leave alone a reduction in wages, many of them were of the opinion that even doubling of wages without improving working conditions and future potential meant nothing to them.",
    Sir, I would want to say that to achieve better 'executive' style facilties for us, we Indians, are at a point where WE HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO RESPOND in scientific terms by sufficiently demonstrating how and why the 'executive' facilties to the Seafarers and Ship Masters will add to the business gains. We should leave back our lobbying habits and put our arguments on rationales. Every person will be making such claims. We need to demonstrate to everyone's conviction why person "A" claims is stronger and agreeable that Person "B's" claim. Lobbying is no way of doing justice to such claims.