Our Ref: HSR/1/19

Head Office Circular: NP/085/15

12th May 2015


The Secretary




Dear Colleague



A survey released by the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) today highlights the need for continuing work on HIV/AIDS and wellbeing among seafarers.


Available at the report A broader vision of seafarer wellbeing: survey of ITF maritime affiliates on HIV/AIDS, health and wellbeing questioned 34 trade unions and 608 seafarers.


The results may be surprising. Despite all the work that has gone into education about HIV/AIDS, many myths about its transmission remain – including in one labour supplying country where only 17 percent of respondents believed condoms are effective in preventing it, and 46 percent believe it can be spread in food and drink. Other major findings came in response to the questions about general wellbeing, with many of those quizzed reporting worries about weight, depression and alcohol use. On average half of them were worried about their weight, while almost 60 percent experience back/joint pain at work. In one labour supplying country 75 percent know workmates who are depressed.


The new report follows similar ITF surveys in the civil aviation and ports sectors, but for the first time includes questions on general health and wellbeing, so as to achieve a holistic overview of seafarers needs and concerns, and in order to ‘normalise’ HIV/AIDS as something within the broader health context, rather than a cause of stigma and fear.


ITF maritime coordinator Jacqueline Smith explained: “We believe this is the most exhaustive current investigation into this subject, and we offer its findings to everyone concerned with the welfare of seafarers.


“We carried out this research to identify the needs and concerns of seafarers, and to show us how we can best address them within the ITF’s longstanding and pioneering HIV/AIDS programme. The results speak for themselves, and we will – with the agreement of the ITF seafarers’ section, which sponsored this survey – plan a comprehensive programme of action accordingly.”


For more about the ITF’s HIV/AIDS work please see


This is the executive summary of the new report:


The ITF has worked systematically, sector by sector, to survey the knowledge, behaviour and needs of transport workers in relation to HIV/AIDS and to set up relevant action programmes. It has now undertaken a survey of seafarers, but this time — instead of limiting the survey questionnaires to HIV and AIDS — the ITF has broadened its approach and included general issues of health and wellbeing.


This report is based on the replies to two sets of questions, one from affiliated unions and one from a cross-section of individual members of those unions. It also takes account of a selective review of the literature. Replies were received from 34 unions in 30 countries in all regions. They made it clear first of all that for most of them HIV was still a risk and they wished to strengthen their work in this area with the help of the ITF. The other health issues they identified as areas of concern were nutrition and exercise, because of the trend towards obesity; alcohol use; mental health including depression; and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) apart from HIV.


A total of 615 officers and ratings replied to the knowledge, attitudes and behaviour (KAB) survey of individual members: 100 from India (all men), 100 from Madagascar (20 women), 124 from the Philippines (two women), and 100 from Ukraine (one woman). There were also web-based replies from 191 seafarers in the ITF network (23 women).


The replies were very revealing and should help lead to action as soon as possible. The survey showed where there are information gaps and, more worryingly, where myths and misconceptions have taken hold. It also showed high levels of anxiety about working with HIV-positive workmates, an attitude the ITF is committed to eliminating by ensuring that seafarers have correct information about HIV risk. There were also vastly varying attitudes to condom use, not always tallying with actual behaviour reported. As for other health issues, significant numbers worry about their weight, lack of exercise and alcohol use. They also report feeling anxious and depressed on board, often or sometimes. Between six and 41 percent, depending on country, knew workmates who had considered suicide. The unions and the individual members requested the ITF to take further action on HIV and health for seafarers.


The report ends by offering a set of recommendations for future action by the ITF and its affiliates. The key recommendation is that the ITF should put in place an HIV/AIDS, health and wellbeing programme tailored to seafarers’ needs. More detailed points are made about the development of resource materials, such as the toolkits prepared for ports and civil aviation, about pre-departure training for peer educators, and about

the development of a health and HIV module for maritime academies. Partnerships with employers are recommended, as is collaboration with organisations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), which has its own programmes for seafarers as well as relevant standards such as Recommendation 200 on HIV/AIDS and the world of work.


Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of all shipping members.


Yours sincerely


Mick Cash

General Secretary