n Acta Commercii - (Mis)managing labour markets? The decline of the contemporary global labour market for British seafarers.

Volume 10, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 2413-1903
  • E-ISSN: 1684-1999


The purpose of this article is to investigate the ways in which states are still significant actors in creating and shaping the nature and characteristics of global labour markets. My argument is demonstrated through an empirical case study of the global labour market for British seafarers.

The last 30 years has witnessed a decimation of the number of employed British seafarers, particularly at lower rank levels, such as ratings. I contend that despite Britain's long and rich maritime history, the British state has not acted meaningfully to reverse the decline of British seafarers. The lack of meaningful action I contend is an attempt to crew British owned ships with cheaper seafaring labour from Asia, particularly south east Asia. In so doing the British state has contributed to the decline of a once thriving labour market. There has simultaneously been an upsurge in the employment of seafarers of other nationalities, and thus the creation of new labour markets in countries such as the Philippines. This paper is an attempt to understand some of the factors responsible for the decline of the British labour market for seafarers.
This paper is the outcome of a larger qualitative study undertaken for my doctoral thesis in industrial sociology which examined the transformation of the global labour market for South African, Filipino and British seafarers. The methodology consists of in depth interviews with maritime officials and trade union leaders. These were conducted in person in London, United Kingdom between 2005 and 2008. These interviews are supported by extensive literature and documentary research, to validate, support and test claims made by my interviewees.
The theoretical contribution of this paper is to reinsert the state more critically into the literature on labour markets. Empirically, seafaring labour markets are largely ignored by the disciplines of both sociology and commerce. The paper attempts to fill this gap by investigating a much neglected occupational sector. Very little empirical work is being done by South African researchers on global labour markets outside South Africa. This paper is therefore primarily addressed to a South African audience.
The paper demonstrates that the state has to be a willing and active partner in ensuring employment security of its worker-citizens in global labour markets. The private sector and organised labour by themselves are unable or unwilling to prevent massive job losses without state intervention. As increasing numbers of workers join global labour markets, states need to become more involved rather than less involved in ensuring the stability of employment for their citizens.

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