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Abstract

Studies on work/labour precarity in recent decades have pointed out its close connections with neoliberal globalisation. While maritime shipping, arguably the most globalised of all contemporary industries, has always been recognised as a singularly precarious sector where seafarers exhibit vulnerabilities towards various forms of exploitation, what has not been sufficiently recognised is an emergent and increasingly manifest polarisation within the industry. Whilst much emphasis has been laid on a so-called ‘manning crisis’, namely, an acute industry-wide shortage of qualified seagoing officers, little is known about an equally undesirable oversupply of ratings, especially at the junior/trainee level. This oversupply results in an employer’s market, rendering seafaring particularly precarious for the ratings, which maybe seen as another crisis. This paper seeks to explore the oversupply of ratings from a localised, ‘ground-level’ perspective by looking at the lived experiences of a group of job-seeking ‘fresher seamen’ based at a ‘Seamen’s Hostel’ in a major maritime city of India. Using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods, the paper explores the situation of these ‘lads in waiting’, the various difficulties they face, and their vulnerabilities. Finally, it makes some attempts at understanding the causes of the problem from a policy angle, and suggests that a better information system, and a more integrated regulatory approach, among other things, are areas in which Indian policy makers can put in effort to tackle the problem.

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