Day of the Seafarer? Cruise Lines Increase Responsibilities & Hours of Officers But Decrease Pay

Day of the Seafarer 2013 - Royal Caribbean CruiseToday is the "Day of the Mariner."  According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), today is the day to recognize the dedication and hard work of seafarers in the shipping industry.  

Most of the focus of this blog over the years has been on the frequent abuse of the lower rank crew members, like the cruise ship cleaners, cabin attendants, and waiters. However, it's just not the crew who are being abused. There has been an increasing trend in the cruise industry to overwork and mistreat the professional mariners / deck officers who work aboard the major cruise lines.

Every single cruise ship relies on highly trained, professional and knowledgeable marine officers to safely run the ship's operations.  The safety of the passengers & and the security of the ship depend on the officers' flawless execution of navigation duties 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the cruise industry, safety can be achieved only by highly skilled officers who are well rested and physically and psychologically fit for duty.

But there has been a trend in the last few years to increase the work load of the ship's officers while substantially decreasing their pay. Some officers face a 50% reduction in their pay.  If they complain, the cruise lines are quick to terminate their employment and replace them with less qualified or experienced mariners.  

One cruise line for example, Royal Caribbean, has progressively deteriorated the working conditions, physical and mental fitness and morale of its marine officers in the last 5 years. The work load of the officers has risen to the point where officers work well in excess of the hour limitations recommended by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The officers are required to work up to and in excess of 14 hours per day every day, which is the standard 8 hours of watch that is expected for watch keepers and 6 hours of "overtime" work for "secondary" duties.

Would you fly in an airplane knowing that the pilots responsible for the flight had been working 14 hours or more a day for the past 8 weeks?

Royal Caribbean has progressively downsized its marine / deck departments over the years. The secondary work loads (deck maintenance, lifesaving, navigation) used to be spread out between multiple officers and a dedicated chief officer for maintenance and a dedicated safety officer for safety training. These roles have now been combined into fewer and fewer officers while the cruise ships get bigger and bigger.

Royal Caribbean has now increased contract lengths by an extra 4 weeks for these over-tired, over-worked, under-paid officers. The cruise line seems to consider the officers "disposable" if they try and bring up the topic of excessive work loads. The company can fire highly experienced and loyal officers with impunity. 

There are also rumblings in the ranks of Royal Caribbean that the cruise line has steadily focused on hiring officers of less professional competency. The replacements are increasingly coming from countries where you can buy a license. Some officers from these countries cannot speak English, and they do not fully understand and were never really trained on the proper operations of the complex bridge systems on today's modern ships,

Royal Caribbean - Money - ProfitThere is no question that the cruise lines are pushing their crew and their ships harder and harder.

The cruise industry is placing unreasonable demands on professional seafarers as well. At the same time, the cruise lines are inserting one-sided arbitration clauses in the seafarer's employment contracts which strip the officers of their rights under U.S. law and permit the cruise lines to get away with dangerous conditions and work practices. It is no coincidence that there are more and more cruise mishaps reported in the news.

If its really the "Day of the Seafarer," it's important for the world to understand that the cruise lines are raking in the cash at the expense of crew members and officers alike. Cruise executives are getting richer and richer while the seafarers we salute today are working increasingly longer hours for less pay with fewer rights. 

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Comments (19) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
David Cutler - June 24, 2013 11:47 PM

As a previous ship's bandmaster just pointing out that ship's musicians also have challenging professional and seafaring responsibilities. Seems they do not always enjoy any better benefits or acknowledgement?

NMoore - June 24, 2013 11:59 PM

As one crew member stated, " we toil under the invisible whip"..

Alex - June 25, 2013 9:06 AM

Here is another nice article about Royal Caribbean and their employee exodus under: http://sound-prospects.com/royal-caribbean-technician-exodus/

exroyalemployee - June 25, 2013 9:34 AM

Finally., some coverage on this.. if you ever plan to cruise think about how much money you are paying goes into the big wigs pocket, and how little goes into ours.

I was a sound tech on the allure and i will admit.. it was a fun job. it had its up and downs... but as soon as royal implemented this new change to cut cost by sticking techs in smaller cabins, giving them a roommate, taking away on board privileges, and not paying anymore.. why should i stay?

even though my nametag said SOUND TECH, i was still expected to fix computers, reconfigure network administration, clean lights, assist in rigging, serve food in the wind jammer, and the final straw... ask to clean cabins on turn around day...

http://sound-prospects.com/royal-caribbean-technician-exodus/

Chief Officer Safety - June 25, 2013 6:13 PM

Wow.. interesting read today! This is only the tip of the ice berg at Royal Caribbean, the company is by far one of the most poorly managed cruise line today when it comes to deck officers.

14 hour days are an understatement! There are Chief Officers working well in excess of 16 hours on a regular occasion.

There is already a mass exodus of some of the best trained officers at RCL, and much much more to come!

Maybe Exroyal Engineer - June 27, 2013 2:10 PM

Nice article everything is almost true but there is nothing about extending bridge officer contracts. I am currently sailing (maybe not for much longer) and the only news is that they are planning on downgrading 2 engineers on each ship to alomost 40% less salary and contract going from a 10week on/off system to a 14/7 week on/off system. Actually this is not maybe becuase it is already happening on Mariner of the seas. Guess they are going to be out of alot of their skilled and experienced officers. Say they are trying to have everyone in positions with higher licenses then needed. All that will happen and is already happening is that the countries where people can "buy" their license will advance. Many people who have been doing the job for 5-10 years will be forced to quit or resign with major cuts if they cannot fix their license before hand. On top of this RCCL will not pay for any of the education or upgrading of which they want their people to have. An unxpected $4000-10000 cost for many. Good luck RCCL. Looks like you will be making the news more often.

Was-a-crusie - June 27, 2013 11:28 PM

This is it in a nutshell folks, I did not have the "pleasure" of working for RCCL, but one of their main competitors, Princess. They are almost identical in their modus operandum as this article describes the change present on Royal Caribbean. Over the years the focus has become less on safety and more on cost cutting, what may have once been the ideal employment trip is now reduced to an experience at a McDonalds with a Play-Pit.

The main difference here is that the officers of the Princess ships generally have a union or hiring agency backing, and thus the most powerful office awards the majority of the officers contracts. A good number of the hires whom I've engaged with, are incompetent, cannot speak English which is REQUIRED by International law, and have very poor technical skills.

They reward those coming from the same country, or city, and disregard actual work ethic and skill from those who are not.

Why I left: wages cut 15% in one year, over time work is not paid for unless over 11 hours (then it's 9 dollars an hour after that, supposedly), reduction in safety training, reduction in skills training, will not cover school expenses unless you are willing to threaten to leave them (and in most cases they pay only a small amount back), etc.

Basically, to all officers/crew, if you want to work in the McDonalds of the marine industry, go cruise ship. If not, find some place else.

Current Royal employee but not for long! - June 28, 2013 5:11 PM

This has been my experience with Royal as well. They care too much for the big wigs in the office to care about their crew members on ships. They want to cut the marine department so they can increase the hotel employee numbers. They need more people in the hotel deptartment selling more things to guests to put more money in the VP and CEO pockets. None of the money goes back to the crew members. They deny raises shore side but the VP's and CEO's get raises. They actually send out reports congratulating each other (the VP's) about taking coach flights instead of first class. They make it seem like they are trying to save money because they travelled in coach. But then you look at where the travelled and its Miami to Houston. Please...brag about saving money by flying coach from Miami to Australia like you make the rest of the employees do. They fly shipboard employees from one port to another in the same day but if a VP ends up in Aruba they will stay an additional night so they can 'rest'. Screw the employee that was up since 5 am, flew to another ship and is expected to work until 2 or 3 am. They dont need a 'rest' but those poor overworked underpaid VP's do. At Royal its all about screwing their employees.

Somones right - June 29, 2013 11:33 AM

Looks like someone knows what they are talking about. SQM (companies operating manual) was just updated. And yes the 2nd officers (bridge) contracts changed to 14weeks on and 7 weeks off. I wonder how many people they will loose in the next few weeks???? Cant wait to see whats next. Where is Captain Wright when you need him. When he was in power none of this shit happened in the Marine Department. See what happenes when you put non marine people in charge of operations. MAJOR SAFETY ISSUES but good for the big wigs pocket book.

Cellife - July 1, 2013 5:27 AM

This just means that the marine department is starting to eat the same $#!t sandwich that the other departments have been eating for years now.

It seems that things have been getting progressively worse since the new CEO appeared.

Mike the knife.

Speaking of $#!t sandwiches...it's lunch time. Off to the mess :)

delusional - July 3, 2013 9:17 PM

to "somones right" 6/29, get your facts straight. The person that you were wishing to be around in the Marine Department,... was fired. Not the savior you thought he was.
RCCL could care less about their employees. A mass exodus is coming.

leaving one we hope :) - July 21, 2013 10:14 PM

WOW, that was nice one.
But at the end no one is keeping those guys by force... If they don't like it, just leave and find other job. As they used to say - market needs, and doesn't matter do we like it or not. The ships will never stop sailing, yes may be some incidents will occur, but I am sure they have already calculated everything... As we all know the business is driven by financial specialists, not by marine professionals:(((

World Cruiser - September 14, 2013 2:24 AM

I dont know how much marine department gets in a month but i have to say on payday they could not count the money without the machine which was paid for only 15 days. They all got larger cabins, they all got single cabins, they have lot of privillages for free onboard. And they act like king onboard. I am one of the hotel employee recently left the cruise line, they treat the hotel employee worse, because they know they can replace them easily. There are many candidate from countries like endonesia, philiphines, india, costa rica, jamaica waiting to get a job on board and they dont mind to work like slaves. I know in one week they fired 9 person work as F&B, dining room manager, seniors and head waiters. They were all innocent peoples who came there for their living. Some cleaning up procedures are working together with shoreside managements. They decide to eleminate someone, they just start their game. I personally heard when one of the shoreside manager came on board he was talking on the phone to Miami office, he said "all cleaned up , only big one remained to eleminate" . That big one was the hotel director ( also fat), they could not fire him because he was an American. It was so easy for them to fire others without even any evidance. They lost over 18 million dollars on law suit based on overtime. After that they pressured employee about overtime, they force them to fill out the paper themself and if the employee has too much overtime managers was forcing them to change the figures. Why they never bring the card system?? Because the knew it could not be modified. When overtime rises on the ship Miami office was giving pressure to all managers on board, but they were the one cut off so many positions with the name of "next level project". Now they changed the tipping policy gues thinks that all money they paid is going to waiter, asst waiter, head waiter and cabin attended who actually served them, however now the company collecting the tips from guests and splits and cut off the money for some other employee as well. Actually it is their responsibility to pay right to those employee however instead they take the money from other employee pocket to pay them. I hate this unfair treatment, Hey caused many innocent employees income loss, job loss. Whoever cause those unfair treatment hope goes to hell....

Yoyo - September 14, 2013 10:58 AM

Marine officers have wonderful life and single cabins, and everything for free, even monthly supply of water. Their salaries are from 10000 used per month, they do not pay for their tickets ( thing which hotel employees do ) they have 10 weeks contract as opposed to 7-8 months contract of hotel crew or even 4 months contract of hotel officers.... What else do they want? And , oh... About overtime- they ad overtime intentionally into their Kronos, cause as officers, they have option to put any time in and out they want, so it will look like they work hard. The only time they work hard, when they do tank inspections or life saving appliances inspections... If they are on watch, all they do is drink coffee ( for free) eat cookies that they get from room service ( privilege for them for free) and check girls on cameras. This is their job. They work 16 hours??? Bull!!!!!!! They work 8 hours and not a minute more!!! What they put in Kronos, again, that is different story. They are responsible for safety??? Yes, agree, but that is all, hotel officers are responsible for ships cleanliness, revenue AND safety, and they get much less than marine, why? Because there is a strong union behind marines and there is no union behind hotel unfortunately. They all have higher education ? Bull!!! Most of them have marine colleges which are 3-4 years only. My job also requires higher education, which I have and I still get paid less than them because I am hotel. Marines are I trouble??? Good for them, at least they will be paid and worked fairly.

Exchef - September 15, 2013 12:03 PM

I worked for royal almost 3 years as a sous chef 2 stripe officer, we had certain "privileges" that we never have time to enjoy, why? Because chefs work 12 to 14 hours a day as sous chef we had single cabins that was the only privilege we can actually take an enjoy, but they make changes now and they took this privilege away not only for sous chef but for all 2 stripe officers in the fleet because these will save money they say..... Well I left RCCL in may because of all this changes and many other sous chef did over 80 highly train chef from Europe and other countries, corporate chef left as well, all senior people were either fired or some how push to leave, so who is in charge of the safety and cleanliness of food on board???? Not well train Indians, Filipinos and 3 world country sous chef that have no real experience what so ever on hazardous food, anaphylactic allergies they can't even speak proper English to understand the need of guest and how about the crew members that don't eat half a kilo of rice for breakfast or eat spiced food they suffer as well with these kind of newly unexperienced chefs that are in charge of the food handling on board, don't get me wrong some of them are good, work overseas before they join RCCL but most don't. So not only the safety of the ship is jeopardize with the abuse of marine officers but as well with kitchen, hotel and service. Royal Caribbean is only looking at numbers, money figures and don't care about employees and really don't care about the passengers

RoyalShaft - September 15, 2013 3:17 PM

This is nothing new with RCCL !! there is constant pressure from the top for management to come up with "ideas" so the company can save a few bucks here and there and most of these "ideas" are to the disadvantage of the front line crew, i still work for the company and coming in to my 6th year and there has always been changes and never for the better . i have seen days off taken away , privileges lost , staff cuts which have put more pressure on alredy strained departments , longer contracts , crew hotel arrangements changed for the worse, freezes on so called "pay-rises", withholding of gratuities , marketing strategies which have damaged the income of workers , the stupidity of some of changes is almost laughable . i also see today that they axed another 100 jobs in corporate , probably due to the realisation that the jobs that they created in the first place were not needed . the industry has changed a lot in the last 10 years and it does not seem to be getting any better for the average crew member on any cruiseline not just RCCL , i have worked on princess and carnival and it seems they are all heading the same way. bottom line has always been that there will always be someone else to who will work under those conditions . this will have a knock-on effect in years to come and there will be a decline in service and professionalism that has been strongpoint in the industry from day one and these ships will just begin to churn out cheapo "get em on.. get em off" cruises... its starting already . As for the crew-members .... my ancestors came to the caribbean on slave ships and its seeming more likely that im gonna leave the caribbean on one.

Thor - September 17, 2013 6:48 AM

I'm a former engine officerin RCCL, and I can see that this is going downhill. The onlyway to stop this is to go to newspapers and tv.

I also see that many people says the officers have a good life onboard, but as an fomer engine officer I have to say that we had our fair share of work.

I know that for many others the days was longer,and harder, with bad pay, and that is a shame.

I also recall some people said that it would be good to get rid of the Norwegians, well as you can see, there is no one left to negociate salaries, and conditions anymore.

But its really a shame whats happening now!

Go as public as you can, its the only way you can stop this.

Best of luck for you all in RCCL

El Vikingo - September 19, 2013 6:27 PM

I see many crewmembers complain about the officers.

Is it just that you are jeaoulus?

Many of the officers (I'm talking marine) spend 4 years + to study, and then work their way up.
And for example a 2nd engineer makes USD 5500-6000 a month, this in not fortune in Europe.
Single cabins was negociated by unions, Norwegian unions.(guess this have changed a bit now)
We work 12 hour a day, and if you think it's pleasant to work in 45 C ++ in the engineroom, come and join us.

BUT with this said, I know for a fact that RCCL are abusing crewmembers, force them to work long hours, falsefying resthours and so on.
An I think this is a huge shame!
Crewmembers does not have many rights at all, and I find it strange that the media do not show more intrest in this modern day slavery.
That would be the only way to beat them.
They do not like bad publisity at all!
And reading this "new policy" scares me as a sailor.

Is it not possilbe to stop them??

I left many years ago, with a lot of other Norwegian officers, we saw what this would become.

Now its all American way.

I really feel sorry for the crewmembers on theese vessels today.

Husky - December 7, 2014 12:58 PM

What do you expect??,...When the entire maritime industry is managed by corporate crooks.
Just be a wisthleblower,...press,TV,media.

A former engineer officer.

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