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Purchasing vs. Bunkering

Before we can start any analysis of the data collected for the annual Maritime HR Association salary survey, each employee (yes all 22,000 of them!) is given a job code to ensure we make like-for-like comparisons when we compare their salaries. First they are put into a job family, which can include chartering, operations, technical and marine or any of our specific job families. They are then given a level which covers junior level roles all the way up to director level. In this mini report we’ll be focussing purely on the Purchasing and Bunkering job family and breaking down all the data to see exactly what kind of trends have emerged this year.

As the name suggests, the Purchasing and Bunkering departments’ activities will typically include the sourcing and purchasing of all consumables and spare parts for vessels, forecasting purchasing and/ or bunkering needs, maintaining relationships with suppliers, negotiating contracts and maybe a bit of bunker trading on the side.

This year with the job coding we combined the Purchasing and Bunkering staff because of the slight overlap of jobs where employees maybe did a bit of both. Yet to analyse the differences of the two departments further we’ve completely ripped them apart again and had another look.

By reviewing the Purchasing and Bunkering data we were able to confirm the pretty consistent theme when comparing purchasers to bunkerers salaries; with bunkering employees unsurprisingly coming out on top. What may be a surprise though is the scale of differences in salary! Junior bunkering staff are paid on average 86% more than a pure purchasing junior employee, although as we go up the seniority this starts to level out slightly. Having said that bunkering managers still on average receive a 45% higher base salary in comparison to a purchasing manager!

Some thorough analysis of employees’ annual bonuses paints a very similar picture but even more extreme. At a professional level in a bunkering role you could expect to receive 6 times the bonus of the unlucky juniors in purchasing departments. Maybe not quite as dramatic but the sad story of bonuses continues for the more senior purchasers too, with senior professionals and management staff in bunkers taking 2-3 times the bonus of purchasing staff. In practice this translates to 62% of bunker professionals receiving this type of amount or more. (see Chart A, right, click to expand).

But why do bunker staff earn so much more? Despite their apparent similarities the two departments have quite obvious differences in pay and bonuses. By getting down to the nitty gritty we could see that this could potentially be because of the inclusion of the bunker trader role. The bunker trader role is not only specialist but is predominately a sales role and of course with sales comes the big bonuses! It is possible for these traders to be bringing up the average salary and bonuses for those that work in the bunker sector -so we went even further by distinguishing between bunker buyers and traders.

Chart B (right, click to expand) compares base salaries and bonuses for those at a professional trader and buyer level. Analysis of all levels of seniority demonstrated the consistent higher salaries of the bunker traders in base pay and bonuses for both levels of seniority. This analysis has also been quite telling in what each career path can expect in pay increases: a promotion to a senior bunker traders is very well rewarded and employees could potentially expect a 50% salary increase! Whereas the jump from a professional bunker buyer to senior bunker buyer will on average receive a 22% increase. However, not surprisingly the biggest difference between buyer and trader is with their bonuses, or lack of it. A buyer on average will only receive a sliver (16%) of a trader’s bonus at a professional level and at senior level they’ll still only see a third of what a trader does.

So with the above in mind maybe we should take a look at the difference between purchasing staff and bunkering staff again while excluding the bunker traders? Graph C (right, click to expand) takes a look at this and actually despite the traders being taken out we are still seeing the higher salaries for the bunkering employees. Likewise the bunker buyers are still consistently receiving the higher bonuses yet since excluding the traders we are seeing them level out slightly.

So what does this all mean? It could well mean that if you’re into higher salaries and big bonuses then be a bunker trader! But if sales isn’t for you and prefer to do the buying then specialise and be a bunker buyer. For us it highlights an area we’d quite like to expand within the salary survey and increase the data collected for bunkering companies. This will mean we can completely break down the types of bunkering roles and create even more detailed reports in this specialist industry. 

Jessica Forbes, Compensation & Benefits Consultant, HR Consulting. You can find out more at

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