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Deborah McPherson reports on the case of Valentina, a rivercruise worker who has gone public with her experience of sexual harassment
A European female rivercruise crew member who worked in the onboard hotel, restaurant and catering (‘Horeca’) sector has described the distressing level of sustained sexual harrassment she faced on her first voyage.
Valentina, a Serbian Horeca chef de partie, described how she faced constant unwanted attention such as touching, inappropriate comments and sexual innuendo from her chef supervisor during her first trip on a Swiss-flagged rivercruise vessel along the Danube and Rhine in 2022.
'My chef supervisor and I had problems since day one,' she said. 'Every day he was either trying to catch my eye, breathing on my neck, “accidental” touching, or making inappropriate comments.'
Valentina told her supervisor directly she did not like the way he talked to her or the sexual innuendo she had to endure while preparing food, and also formally complained to the ship's hotel services manager about her experiences.
The chef eventually apologised, but played down his alleged advances, insisting he had been 'misunderstood'. Valentina noted, however, that her manager had not treated her male colleagues the same way: 'He didn't watch guys like he did me; he didn't talk to them or touch them like he did me.' She said the employer also promised to take disciplinary action against her line manager, but to no avail. Instead her manager stayed onboard with no consequences and she was sent home.
Valentina was also admitted for various health issues to a hospital in Cologne during her trip. She had to organise and pay for the transportation back to her home country and the hospital bills.
'I felt very disappointed, and humiliated,' said Valentina of her experience. 'Women don't have any rights on those ships and that needs to be changed.'
When she got nowhere raising a formal complaint with the vessel's management, Valentina sought help from the Swiss branch of Nautilus International which she understood supports workers in the inland navigation sector.
While the experience led her to ultimately quit the rivercruise industry, after support from the Union she agreed her to make her experiences public in a report presented to an International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) inland navigation section conference in Amsterdam in December 2022. Valentina took part in a panel discussion at the conference, in the hope that publicising her experience would galvinise the industry into action to counter such abuse.
The ITF conference heard more countries need to ratify ILO Convention 190 on eliminating violence and harassment in the workplace – in force since 2019, but still not ratified by Switzerland, the Netherlands or the UK.
Nautilus national secretary Holger Schatz said: 'Much more needs to be done proactively to establish a fear-free climate onboard.' Nautilus has urged countries to ratify the Convention and continues to raise awareness of workplace sexual harassment with employers, as well as seek improvements to counter the 'very poor protection against dismissal in Switzerland.'
Maritime professionals are urged to join Nautilus International to be entitled to full industrial and legal protection for workplace issues. The team will provide individual advice, guidance and referral, as appropriate, for legal advice.
More resources are also available here:
- Nautilus guidance on recognising and tackling bullying and harassment in the maritime workplace Protect and Respect Workplace Guidance
- ILO Convention on violence and harassment in the workplace
- Global Gender Diversity survey which found onboard harassment was commonplace in maritime
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