Impediments to free movement of Chinese seafarers in the maritime labour market

Zhiwei Zhao*, David Walters, Desai Shan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


With economic reform, in China, labour turnover of seafarers became more possible. However, little attention has been paid to its consequences. A limited literature indicates that Chinese seafarers may leave state-owned enterprises to become freelance seafarers, working in the global labour market for better wages and employment conditions. There have been predictions of a substantial increase in seafarer export, with China becoming the top labour supplier to the global maritime industry. However, such expectations have been largely unmet. Through 157 qualitative interviews with seafarers and managers in Chinese ship crewing agencies, we explore some reasons why this may be so. The findings suggest that Chinese seafarers are in fact limited in their willingness and ability to leave their companies. This is due to a complex mixture of organisational, regulatory, infrastructural and personal contexts that are their everyday experience of work in China. Analysis further suggests that the underdevelopment of a national regulatory infrastructure and welfare support mechanism for seafarers, along with poor implementation of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, combine to limit the extent of the reform of the Chinese seafaring labour market. Together, these factors help to explain why China’s seafaring labour export has been far lower than anticipated. JEL Codes: D40, E24, F66, J61, J83

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Economic and Labour Relations Review
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)425-443
Publication statusPublished - 1. Sep 2020


  • Chinese seafarers
  • labour turnover
  • seafaring labour export
  • seafaring labour market reform


Dive into the research topics of 'Impediments to free movement of Chinese seafarers in the maritime labour market'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this