• PNG Business News

Addressing FSV: A Work in Progress for Steamships

Steamships Limited has a history of supporting the fight against family and sexual violence (FSV) through its pioneer sponsorship of the Coalition for Change, an Advocacy Group that in 2013, successfully lobbied for the introduction of legislation to address FSV. This was a breakthrough, as for a long time FSV was seen as a ‘personal issue’ that needed to be treated with sensitivity in the absence of clear and appropriate legal recourse. The Family Protection Act enabled a change in thinking to view FSV as a critical staff welfare concern, an impediment to business success, and a scourge on community development. Over a five year period, Steamships has evolved in to one of several PNG businesses that are leading the corporate sector’s charge against FSV. Not only have they invested in a range of initiatives to support their own staff impacted by FSV but also the broader community. Steamships are sharing their story of evolving FSV support in the hope that other businesses will be inspired to take similar action.

Steamships’ FSV support journey evolved with its association with the 2014 founded PNG Business Coalition for Women – a collection of businesses that have become the corporate sector’s ‘go to’ resource for gender equality services and training. Steamships is a founding member of the ‘Coalition’ and its 2013-2014 General Manager for Shipping, Susana Germino, was a founding director and a champion of its development of several important ‘gender smart’ policies.

It was through the Coalition that Steamships became involved in Bel Isi PNG, a women’s refuge (seif haus) and FSV case management centre established in Port Moresby in 2018. Originally conceptualised in 2016 as a corporate-funded entity to service staff of subscribing businesses, Steamships Managing Director Peter Langslow was one of the driving forces on its steering committee. It was from Langslow’s early work helping to establish Bel isi PNG that Steamships helped position FSV as a very public matter and one highly deserving of both business and government attention.

“FSV is not a private matter but a very public one because it impacts all of us – individuals, families, communities, businesses and thus our entire country” explains Executive Director of the Coalition, Evonne Kennedy. She credits Steamships, together with Oil Search and BSP, as being the three businesses that contributed the most to the establishment of Bel isi PNG. Many significant contributions were made including BSP’s donation of the seif haus facility, Steamships’ provision of a rent-free location for the case management operation (the first in Port Moresby), and Oil Search’s project management and governance support.

Importantly, the initial Bel isi PNG concept soon evolved to include service provision to the general public in addition to staff of subscribing businesses. As such, the 14 businesses with a Bel isi PNG subscription are helping provide women and girls from all over Port Moresby with critically needed FSV support services. Steamships Chief Operating Officer, Rupert Bray, describes a Bel isi Subscription as an “exceptional opportunity for businesses to ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to showing genuine commitment to addressing FSV both in the workplace and in the community.” To date more than 600 women have utilised Bel Isi services. Steamships continues to play a significant role at Bel isi PNG with current MD Michael Scantlebury being represented on its board.

Steamships Group HR Manager, Seini Fisi’ihoi, admits that despite its excellent corporate citizenship around Bel isi PNG and a long history of being an employer of choice, it wasn’t until early 2019 that Steamships introduced a formalised and structured system of support for its own staff. “We already had our policies against sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, as well as an overarching code of conduct but we didn’t have anything that specifically addressed FSV until we implemented the Coalition’s FSV policy which included selecting our FSV contact teams and undertaking all of the necessary training.”

“Like many of the Coalition’s other member businesses, Steamships had a history of responding with compassion and doing what it thought was best when their staff presented with FSV” says Kennedy. “What is different now is that Steamships’ response is informed by a best practice FSV policy and underpinned by very specific training, enabling it to not just respond compassionately but professionally and systematically as well.” This is confirmed by Fisi’ihoi when she describes how Steamships’ FSV Contact Teams can literally swing in to action. “They understand the referral pathways and know what to do and who to call. They work together on behalf of the impacted staff member with their Bel Isi PNG contact person. We may have the natural compassion and influence to help individuals but significantly, our Bel Isi PNG subscription gives us a great sense of assurance that our staff and their situation is now being managed by experts.” The subscription also entitles Steamships to an ongoing range of refresher courses and workshops.

Similar to other businesses that have implemented the Coalition’s FSV policy and identified and trained FSV contact teams, Steamships staff who are experiencing FSV are able to take advantage of a number of significant support mechanisms such as flexible work arrangements enabling them to take paid time off for hospital, case management and counselling appointments, as well as court attendances; relocation to another department or business (even in another province); security arrangements; as well as safe transport. “Our female employees play a central role in the success of our business and we want to ensure they continue to do so as their male counterparts would” emphasises Fisi’ihoi.

Early in 2020, Steamships implemented another of the Coalition’s programs to enhance the safety of its female workers. Its marine services business, Pacific Towing, rolled out ‘Gender Smart Safety’ a program aimed to maximise the physical, psychological and occupational safety of its female employees. Although the program doesn’t solely focus on FSV it does help Pacific Towing identify and then mitigate the potential risk of FSV. As such, the focus of Gender Smart Safety is on FSV prevention as opposed to response. The extent to which Gender Smart Safety will be implemented across other Steamships businesses is currently being discussed.

Bray says that Steamships is investigating what else it can do in the FSV space. “Within our businesses we are looking at ways to improve our support system. For example, effective communications across multiple businesses all over the country is a challenge and we still have staff who are not fully aware of the numerous ways in which we can support them. This obviously needs to change. Unfortunately, this problem is exacerbated by the huge holes in PNG’s FSV support system. There aren’t for example, women’s refuges and case management services in every location in which we operate, nor are there FSV units at every police station, or FSV centres at every hospital.”

Agreeing that there is only so much that the private sector can do to ‘plug gaps’ in the Nation’s FSV support system Bray still believes that there is scope for companies like Steamships to do more. “We can for example encourage businesses in our supply chains and distribution networks to introduce similar FSV initiatives to our own. Likewise we can use our Community Grants Program to channel funds into community FSV initiatives and urgently needed training.”

The Steamships Group, notably one of PNG’s oldest and most successful companies, is one of PNG’s strongest advocates of FSV support programs for both its staff and the broader community. Acknowledging its own FSV initiatives as a ‘work in progress’ Steamships is committed to refining and improving its staff support mechanisms and exploring additional ways in which it can facilitate enhanced FSV service provision in the community.

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