People can do wonderful things at all stages of their life and age shouldn’t necessarily be a determinant. According to Oscar Wilde, the old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything and those who are young know everything. I’m not necessarily sure that I agree with all that, but it does perhaps highlight some of the stereotypes that we may come to appreciate. In that respect, ICS has produced guidelines about age discrimination in the shipping industry.

Within the ILO Maritime Labour Convention 2006, there are some fundamental principles which underline the principles with regard to discrimination, not just gender discrimination, not just race but all aspects of discrimination. Age discrimination is one of these areas that perhaps we have not considered as much as we should have done within our industry.

Last year, the ILO held a meeting on recruitment and retention in the industry; one of the issues raised, not just by the unions but also by governments, was a concern regarding potential age discrimination for both the young or old within the industry.

ICS guidelines focus on:

  • Protection against unfair treatment because of someone’s actual age, the age they are thought to be, or the age of someone they are associated with;
  • Protection against harassment because of age;
  • Avoiding different treatment due to age being allowed in limited circumstances, e.g. cadets.

The targets of ICS guidelines are:;

  • To avoid age discrimination in all activities;
  • Appreciate the benefits of a workplace free of age discrimination;
  • Make workplaces inclusive so that staff feel they belong, irrespective of age, and are not disadvantaged or under-valued;
  • Develop measures, policies and plans to eliminate age discrimination and improve the working environment onboard a ship;
  • Involve employees or their representatives in all activities.
  • Recognize examples of age discrimination;
  • Know how to handle age discrimination should it occur;
  • Identify potential grievances which may activate company grievance procedures;
  • Respect employees that raise concerns on behalf of other employees;
  • Consider incorporating corporate age discrimination policies into collective bargaining agreements, where appropriate considering national laws/ regulations
  • Recognize that the shipowner should be made aware of discriminatory actions and that, if reasonable preventable actions are not taken, they may become liable.

So, what is the business case?

  • Encouraging greater awareness and understanding of age discrimination, whilst tackling discrimination, can reduce complaints, disciplinary action/ tribunal claims, costs & disruption.
  • To improve morale. Employees who feel discriminated against are likely to be unhappy, less productive and de-motivated with negative impacts for the whole workforce.
  • Preventing age discrimination can also help a company to attract, motivate and retain staff, thereby enhancing its reputation as a shipowner of choice.
  • If staff feel discriminated against, undervalued or ‘forced out’, a shipowner will accrue costs to recruit, train and retain new staff and suffer a damaged reputation.
  • A changing global workforce that is staying at work longer instead of retiring.
  • Having employees at all levels with different backgrounds and skills can also develop a working environment conducive to more ideas and solutions.
  • A diverse workforce can help companies to understand and meet diverse customer expectations.
  • Age discrimination is unlawful in many jurisdictions and Shipowners may unintentionally discriminate if unfamiliar with national laws and regulations.

We have more work to do as we are a global industry and age discrimination is just one of those particular areas.

The key considerations perhaps to think about are:

  • Ageist remarks can discriminate even if not considered insulting. Effect matters.
  • Job applicants and employees should not be discriminated against due to their age, the age they are thought to be or the age of someone they are linked with.
  • Stereotyping may cause age discrimination. Age-based assumptions should not be made as to what job applicants and employees can do or how they will behave.
  • An employee should not be pressurized or bullied into retiring. Often national laws do not proscribe a fixed retirement age.
  • Compensation and benefits should be based on the job and skills, not age.
  • Equal value should be assumed in training staff of all ages.
  • Performance assessment and goal setting should use consistent and fair criteria.
  • Workplace policies and practices should not unintentionally disadvantage an employee due to age.
  • National laws and regulations may permit different treatment due to age in limited circumstances, b;ut exceptions can be difficult to administer.

As Mark Twain said age is an issue of mind over matter, if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter. If you are interested in knowing a bit more about this, please feel free to go to our ICS website and download our guidelines.

Above text is an edited version of  Ms. Natalie Shaw’s presentation during the 2020 SAFETY4SEA London Forum.

View her presentation herebelow

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.


About Natalie Shaw, Director Employment Affairs, International Chamber of Shipping

Natalie has been the Director of Employment Affairs for the International Chamber of Shipping, since March 2003.  In her role she represents the industry on all Employment Affairs matters and coordinates Industry positions at the ILO, IMO, EC, WHO and other UM bodies as appropriate.     She was actively involved in the development and implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 and discussions on the ILO minimum wage, Crew Claims and Abandonment, Revision of STCW and concerns related to Piracy to name but a few areas.   Natalie has a keen interest in all Shipping Employment policy matters and works with the ITF where possible to see how practical policies which are beneficial both to employers and seafarers can be introduced.

Natalie is also a trustee for Seafarers UK.

Natalie is also actively involved with The International Seafarers Welfare Assistance Network (ISWAN) of which she was a Board member for a number of years for both its previous operations namely ISAN and ICSW. She is also Secretary of the Shipowner Group at the International Labour Organisation. She gets actively involved in interfaith and diversity projects. Natalie was previously a Trustee of Sailors Society and Chair of the Welfare and Chaplaincy Committee.