January 08, 2015

The sailor and the bumblebee

Yet another shipmanager gave me, yesterday, the same shop-soiled reasons for the decline in Indian seamen. Some I agreed with- lower quality, calibre, training and commitment, for example. Others were laughable.

His litany of complaints of unethical behaviour (his words, not mine) was long. It included Indian seamen having the temerity to seek shorter contracts, more money, family carriage options and internet at sea. Also, he told me, ‘They want to sign on when it suits them; they don’t want to cut short their leave’. He went on (and on!) talking, with thinly disguised disdain,  lambasting seafarer behaviour before he remembered to give me glowing ‘retention figures’ for his company as proof that it was somehow special and implying that the same seamen that he was cursing were actually lining up outside his door.

Let me say, first, that I dispute that ‘retention’ is a term that can be applied to the shipmanning business. Retention is a concept that applies to permanent employees, not contractual labour that – each time, between contracts- spends months at home unemployed and unpaid with no guarantee of a new contract. Body shoppers cannot claim retention for the simple reason that the employee is let go- each time, without exception- at the end of his contract. (I will not dignify with a response those who claim, always disingenuously, that they offer ‘permanent employment.’ And for heaven’s sakes, let us stop using, finally, the word ‘leave’- another term that does not apply to contractual workers.)

I did not point out to this expert that the negotiation of terms between a potential employee and employer are an inherent part of any business. The employer is free to dismiss demands if he finds them ridiculous, just as the employee is free to go elsewhere if his terms are not met. Supply and demand. Colour of skin. Affordability versus competence. It has always been like that; it always will.

Body shoppers would love negotiations to be a one way street where they produce a contract- out of thin air- that is signed without demur. Fortunately, it does not always work that way. I find nothing wrong in a seaman seeking more money, shorter contracts, internet or whatever else. I also invite blinkered shipmanagers to see what kind of hard negotiations take place between prospective employees and employers in other industries. It will be a revelation, I promise.

But I did not tell this man all that; at my age, I must conserve my breath. I finished my drink, wished him a Merry Christmas, and left. It was only later, while driving home, that it occurred to me that, by ignoring his rant, I had behaved towards this shipmanager in exactly the way many seamen generally behave towards employers in the industry. And I remembered the bumblebee story from my college days.

Which goes like this. You see, according to the laws of physics, the bumblebee cannot fly- aerodynamics experts have studied the bumblebee for a long time and come to this conclusion. This is because, these experts tell us, the bee’s body mass is too large for its limited wingspan.

The thing is, the bumblebee does not know this. So it disregards these experts and flies anyway.  

I have heard the oh-so unreasonable Indian seamen- stories for decades. I have sailed through many of these years, and I suspect many of the younger generation will sail through the rest of them, despite the best efforts of all these experts with their own fishy agendas.


1 comment:

DEEPAK C said...

As usual your knowledge about the whole maritime industry is so deep and you easily catch the pulse and mood of both the employer and employee .

But i can say from my own experience that we Indians are responsible for the situation right now faced by the seaman.
There is no honesty and empathy among we Indians.
The same seaman who has seen his own and his colleague struggle through is own eyes acts the same way like other brutal employers when they them self reach the higher level in manning industry.

Now a days they treat Indian seaman as just beggar and try to lure him with small pieces of bread.

we have reached to an extend that even Filipino are regarded more competent that us.

But i guess this problem is going to stay here for even because the smart ass Indians(with MBA) are them self relegating the hard working Indians but just opening manning agencies and looking only for there own benefit.

Anyhow i myself started my career with Indian company and then was fortunate to be taken by the European employee and have experience both worlds.

I am a big fan of your writing and always wait for your articles.I hope your wisdom is long lived .