A hidden world of long hours, low pay, insecurity and exploitation
ITF translations available: Deutsch
Google free translation: Italiano, Norske, Português, Türk, 中国的, 한국의, Bahasa Melayu, ภาษาไทย, हिंदी, اردو,
தமிழ், Kiswahili, Español, Français, Svenska, Русский, العربية
The idea is seductive. Getting paid to travel the world on some of the most modern and beautiful ships. A real adventure, full of romance and glamour.
However, not surprisingly, the image is too good to be true. Below decks on virtually all cruise ships is a hidden world of long hours, low pay, insecurity and exploitation.
Working days are commonly 10 to 13 hours long, seven days a week. Those who work continuously below deck, for example in the galleys, rarely see the light of day, let alone the shimmering sea of the Caribbean.
Wages for those on a salary can be as low as US$400 a month, rising to $700 a month for skilled cooks and fitters. Many domestic staff are “tip earners”, paid about $50 a month and expected to survive on the generosity of the passengers.
Some passengers abide by advice to tip up to $3 a day for waiters and room stewards. But others spend their money on duty free shops, casinos and in the bar, while incomes are calculated on a ship with every berth filled.
Many seafarers, particularly those from the Philippines, will have to pay a crewing agent a fee of up to $1,500 to join the ship. For the lowest paid, this will mean half of a typical eight month contract will be spent just to cover this expense.
Another trick from the employers is to demand a “security bond” of up to $750 from each employee, supposedly to stop desertion and a consequent fine for the company from the US Immigration Service. The bond can extend the working time to cover expenses to six out of the eight months on board.
Discipline is harsh and often randomly applied. Passenger complaints can mean staff transferred to less desirable stations (not fully occupied for example) or dismissal. Passengers required to pay minimum gratuities for service have been known to complain to avoid payment.
Such factors – as well as the cramped accommodation, the limited leisure facilities and the lack of pension and other social security arrangements – make it less attractive to many of the potential seafarers, especially to those in the developed countries.
The result is an ever-accelerating staff turn-over rate which has seen the average length of hotel crew employed drop from three years in 1970 to 18 months in 1990 to nine months in 2000.
ITF bolsters flag of convenience campaign >>