Bullying and harassment

Research has shown that workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination remain an issue in the maritime industry.

Nautilus has been campaigning to eradicate the problem for more than 10 years, and is working to bring about an industry-wide culture change.

Bullying and harassment is a problem which rarely goes away by itself, so if you are being bullied or harassed, it is vital to take action. What you do now will have a big impact on the successful resolution of the problem further down the line.

Nautilus members are expected to treat each other with dignity and respect, as set out in the Union's Mutual respect policy document. Below is further information about bullying and harassment and now Nautilus can help you with these issues in your workplace.

What is bullying?

The European Community Shipowners' Associations (ECSA) and European Transport Workers' Federation (ETF) have produced Guidelines to Shipping Companies on Equality of Opportunity and Diversity in the European Shipping Industry. These guidelines describe bullying as:

'A threatening or intimidating work environment in which a group of people or an individual may become fearful or intimidated because of the negative or hostile behaviour of another group of people or individual.'

Bullying often involves a misuse of power or position and is often persistent and unpredictable. It may be vindictive, cruel or malicious, but sometimes the people displaying bullying behaviour do not fully realise the effect their actions are having on others.

What is harassment?

Closely linked to bullying, harassment is defined in the European Directive on establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation 1 as:

'A form of discrimination when unwanted conduct takes place which has the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person and of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.'

Bullying, harassment and discrimination

All forms of ill-treatment in the workplace could arguably come under the definition of bullying or harassment. Nautilus members have reported experiencing sexual harassment, sex discrimination, homophobia, ageism, racism and religious discrimination.

None of these are acceptable 'reasons' for one person to mistreat another, and they are all essentially manifestations of the same problem: a lack of respect for others.

Bullying and harassment can cost lives

in 2010, South African female cadet Akhona Geveza died in suspicious circumstances onboard the UK-registered containership Safmarine Kariba.

The incident occurred after Ms Geveza made an allegation of rape against a senior officer, and in the aftermath, a number of allegations of institutional bullying and harassment were made by other cadets onboard.

Examples of possible bullying and harassment in the workplace

'It feels like someone finds fault with everything I do – I can't seem to get it right professionally or when socialising with colleagues.'

'If someone else makes a mistake or tells a joke that falls flat, it's fine, but if I do the same thing, it is treated as a serious offence.'

'Sometimes colleagues shout at me or threaten me – privately or in front of others.'

'People often say or do things that they think I will find offensive, in order to try and get a reaction from me.'

'I have been given unrealistic goals to meet or impossible deadlines, but I feel like it's my fault if I can't meet the targets.'

'I have been subjected to formal disciplinary procedures (such as written warnings) for trivial or fabricated matters, or without proper investigation.'

What can I do if I'm being bullied or harassed?
  • Do your research: Find out your company's policy on bullying and harassment. This should set out how employees are expected to behave and explain the procedures for making a complaint.
  • Keep notes: Make a note of any incidents, including the time, the date and the names of any witnesses, as well as anything you said to the bully or harasser and your emotional state (it is important to be clear about how someone's behaviour made you feel, so it can't be passed off as a joke). Copies of relevant appraisals, letters or memos should also be kept.
  • Speak to the bully or harasser: This is obviously not a pleasant prospect, but it is very important. For one thing, speaking out can often make an immediate difference. But this is also something you must do if there's a chance you might end up making an official complaint. If you don't say anything now, the bully or harasser could later argue that they 'didn't know there was a problem', which would greatly weaken your case. When you speak to the bully or harasser, do this in front of a witness and make a note of the date, time and place that you spoke out. Tell the person you find their behaviour unacceptable and ask them to stop. This is sometimes all that's needed.
  • Get support in your workplace: If the bullying or harassment continues, tell a friend, a colleague or a Nautilus rep if you can. You may not be the only one who has suffered.
  • Contact Nautilus: If you are being bullied or experiencing harassment, please don't let things get to crisis point. Nautilus is here to support you in recognising and tackling the problem – starting with an informal chat about your options.

    If you are a Nautilus member, contact a rep if you have one in your workplace or contact your official. Nautilus has a dedicated email address: Women members can contact another female if they prefer by emailing, and trainee officers and other young members can also email

    If you're not a Nautilus member, think about joining, the best way to tackle bullying and harassment in the workplace is by working collectively.
What can I do to stop bullying and harassment?

A number of resources exist to tackle bullying in the maritime industry and these need to be shared as widely as possible in order to bring about a culture change across the world fleet:

Members are encouraged to share the video, workbook and other literature as widely as possible via social media and within their workplaces. Nautilus is also working with a number of employers to provide training for all staff on identifying and tackling bullying and harassment in the maritime workplace.

Become a Nautilus member today