08 October 2014
Making our Navy a Safer and Healthier Workplace
A few weeks ago I put out a Leadership Log which talked about alcohol in our Navy.
I asked you all to show leadership and challenge the way we’re treating alcohol in our Navy. I’ve been overwhelmed with the feedback, and I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to write to me or my Flag LT Eric Chapman.
The vast majority of the feedback is that action is long overdue. While most people in the Navy have a healthy attitude towards alcohol there are a small number of people who are taking things too far, getting drunk and doing stupid things like getting into fights, drink driving and acting inappropriately around members of the public. This has to stop.
We are Te Taua Moana – Warriors of the Sea. Being a Warrior is more than putting ourselves into harm’s way for our country. It is about standing up for what’s right, intervening when we see inappropriate behaviour, speaking up for those who can’t speak for themselves. It is about fighting for equality and fairness in everything we do. It is clear that a small number of you struggle to maintain these ideals when you’ve been drinking and I need this to change.
As I mentioned in my Leadership Log, I’m not advocating for an alcohol free navy.
You all are adults, and I trust you to have a couple of drinks after work and enjoy a night out. But, as the old saying goes, it’s not that we’re drinking it’s how we’re drinking.
While individuals need to take better responsibility for themselves and their alcohol intake, we also need to take better care of each other.
When you’re out together, if one of your shipmates has too many drinks, you need to take responsibility and get that person home safely, and talk to them about their actions the next day.
I no longer want to come into work on a Monday and find out that one of you has been arrested doing something stupid while drunk.
Alongside standing up for what’s right, we need to change the culture of alcohol in our Navy. In 1990, we abolished the mid-day tot of rum. At the time, people didn’t like it. But, it made our Navy safer, more inclusive and meant sailors were not drunk at work and putting themselves and others in harm’s way.
After all your feedback and positive messages, we’re going to make a few changes. The changes are designed to ensure we’re treating alcohol with the respect it deserves. They are not about stopping you having a few drinks, but I think they send an important message that it’s not ok to go out, get drunk and act inappropriately.
If we continue to see poor behaviour then we will revisit these changes and look at stronger action.
First and most significantly, we are going to make our ships dry while they are underway or at anchor. If you’re at sea, you’re working and it’s a hazardous environment. Drinking at sea makes this environment even more dangerous. This will also mean no duty free at sea. You can still claim duty free through the AFCC when you return to New Zealand.
No duty-free at sea will include cigarettes. The adverse effects that cigarettes have on our health are well documented, and research shows the price of cigarettes directly affects the numbers of people smoking. This change is designed to make our Navy healthier.
Secondly – There will be no consumption of alcohol during work hours, unless expressly approved by the Deputy Chief of Navy, this includes off base as well as on. I would still like your messes to continue to serve food at Friday lunchtimes alongside goffas, tea and coffee or mocktails. Going to the mess is about spinning a few dits and catching up with people. I know you will make this work.
We’re also going to raise the prices of drinks in the ships’ messes. Prices on shore will still be set by the CO PHL who will benchmark them on a six monthly basis against alcohol prices at the Devonport New World. Ships’ messes will follow the pricing set for shore messes. Any extra profit made by the messes will be put straight back into mess funds and spent on events and other things which benefit the mess members.
Alongside these three major changes we’re going to champion greater enforcement of bar rules and host responsibility, abolish awarding alcohol-related gifts at prize-giving’s, provide more visible shore patrols and remove alcohol advertising from our Naval Base.
We are going to increase our education and awareness programmes. Every promotion course will have a responsible drinking component, as well as a renewed focus on diversity and equality in our Navy.
Finally, drinking and driving is a serious offence that displays a lack of judgement and self-discipline. Drinking and driving is not accidental, it is a conscious choice that endangers not only you, but others on the road. If you are convicted of drink driving it is likely you will be discharged from our navy.
I want to reiterate, these changes are not about punishing people, they are about changing our culture and championing an environment where our people take responsibility and behave like ambassadors for our Navy and our nation.
We’ll still have events such as Champion of the Navy and BBQs where alcohol is available, but we’re trusting you to take these changes, run with them and challenge New Zealand’s culture of binge drinking.
We are Te Taua Moana – Warriors of the Sea. I expect us all to live up to this ideal. Our Navy will be better for it.
Rear Admiral Jack Steer