Royal Caribbean Boycotts Rotterdam Shipyard After €1,000,000 Fine?

Three and a-half years ago, I wrote about a large fine leveled against Royal Caribbean for violating labor rules and regulations while the Oasis of the Seas was dry-docked in the Netherlands. Dutch labor inspectors had arrived at the shipyard in Rotterdam and found that numerous employees who were working on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship lacked proper residence papers and worked excessive hours (some up to 16 hours per day).

The Oasis had been undergoing maintenance and repairs while in dry-dock in Rotterdam when 45  inspectors from the Netherlands labor department boarded the ship. The inspectors determined that as many as 124 ship employees were not part of the regular crew and the cruise line should have Keppel Verolme - Oasis of the Seasapplied for work permits for them.

The finding of the Dutch labor inspectors ("arbeidsinspectie") led to a  €1,000,000 fine. This was an unprecedented action by a port state enforcing their local labor regulations against a large cruise company.

I asked at the time that "it remains to be seen whether Rotterdam receives any more work from Royal Caribbean in the future."

Upon notice of the fine, Royal Caribbean quickly decided that the dry-dock repairs needed for its sister ship, the Allure of the Seas, would be performed in Cadiz, Spain. Since then, Royal Caribbean has avoided any maintenance of its ships in Rotterdam. Just last month, Royal Caribbean sent the Brilliance of the Seas from Amsterdam to a shipyard in Hamburg, Germany.  

Royal Caribbean had used the shipyard extensively in the past, including projects like stretching and installing a mid-body section in the Enchantment of the Seas back in 2005. 

The CEO (Kommer Damen) of the shipyard in question (Damen Shipyards, formerly Keppel Verolme), recently criticized the fine in a Dutch newspaper, Maritiemnieuws (auto translate via Google Chrome).  Mr. Damen was interviewed in the Dutch VNO-NCW opinion forum

Mr. Damen essentially stated that the strict enforcement of the labor regulations of the Netherlands caused the shipyard to lose up to "about 1 billion euros" over the past 4 years. Mr. Damen characterized the fine as "simply unwise policy." The opinion piece states that Royal Caribbean allegedly objected to and did not pay the labor fine.

Mr. Damen explained that, in his opinion, it is "entirely customary" for foreign shipowners to deploy their own ship employees ("riding crew"), as opposed to local employees employed by the shipyards, during maintenance projects. But, as Mr. Damen further argues, only the Dutch labor inspectors interpret and enforce the international regulations for labor on board ships in such a way that it is not possible to employ over a hundred ship employees not hired pursuant to the local labor laws. He cites the situation in countries such as Germany or France, where the the local inspectors permit the shipping companies to fly in extra crew for specialized projects taking place at shipyards. 

We originally reported that Royal Caribbean had employed over 100 ship employees (and as many as as 77 Filipinos) to work on the Oasis of the Seas project during the dry-dock in Rotterdam. The cruise line was reportedly working these crew members as long as 16 hours a day (far in excess of the Dutch labor regulations) and likely for a fraction of what would have been paid to Dutch workers.  

But when a labor fine results in lost revenue of a shipyard catering to the multi-million dollar business of a cruise line, its appears that labor inspectors will be forced to look the other way when ship workers work far-more-hours and for far-less-money than permitted by law. 

Have a comment? Please leave a message or join the discussion on our Facebook page where I ask the question: Do you trust the cruise lines and shipyards to look after the labor rights of crew members?

Photo credit: Damen Verolme Rotterdam YouTube - Videoclip - Keppel Verolme dry-docking OASIS OF THE SEAS

Oceania Crew Members Pay the Price When Norovirus Hits

Oceania Riviera The Oceania Riviera, which was scheduled to be on a cruise until tomorrowreturned to the port yesterday with passengers sickened by norovirus. 

The virus has reportedly sickened at least 119 of 1,225 passengers, which is 9.72% of the passenger population on the ship. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has verified that the passengers who are suffering are suffering from nausea and vomiting are infected with gastrointestinal illnesses caused by norovirus.

This cruise ship was last contaminated with norovirus during a cruise from November 18 – December 2, 2015 and had to return to Miami for what the cruise industry often calls "enhanced cleaning."

All crew members on cruise ships dealing with a gastrointestinal illness outbreak know that they are going to increase their work and lose sleep whenever noro is aboard the cruise ship. Crew members are pressed into spraying and wiping virtually every inch of the ship's surfaces in order to give the ship a "deep clean" whenever there is a GI outbreak,  This is now happening on the Riviera where the entire crew has been compelled to work long hours to try and eradicate the nasty virus before the next group of passengers come aboard the cruise ship tomorrow.

Several crew members, who wish to remain anonymous, have contacted us to complain that they are working from early in the morning until the very late hours / early morning hours of the next day. Some crew member report working around 18 to 20 hours a day for the past days. The crew members say that they are forced to work hours far in excess of the maximum permitted under the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). They are told to sign out and work the extra time "off the clock."  The result is that they are not being paid and are working past the point or mental and physical exhaustion.  

Few passengers may be thinking about the welfare of the crew members, who have not only had to clean up the vomit throughout the ship on a daily basis, but now have to work an unreasonable number of hours to "super-clean" the ship and kill all of the noro left by the last round of sick passengers.

The crew is undoubtedly feeling the pressure from the top as the cruise line CEO Frank Del Rio told USA TODAY last October that "I insist on spotless ships." This attitude is definitely on the minds of the ship managers even when there is no norovirus outbreak. When noro strikes, the managers are pushing the crew past the maximum hours permitted to work.

Flagrantly violating the MLC 2006 Convention is not an unusual thing on some cruise ships. It is honored in the breach on many ships. There is tremendous pressure to work and keep the department heads happy. A super-clean ship where the crew works like a beaten dog is hardly a safe and secure workplace.

Unfortunately, there is not much a crew member can do in this situation.  Hiring a lawyer may end up with a wage claim but it will surely result in the crew member finding himself or herself on a one way flight back to their home country.  

Photo Credit: Kefalonitis94 - Creative Commons 4.0, Wikimedia

February 22 2016 Update:  The cruise industry's trade organization, Cruise Line international Association (CLIA), posted this tweet on Twitter: "Our work never ends. Crewmembers continually clean & sanitize cruise ships to ensure passenger & crew #health"  It's one tweet from CLIA that is literally true, crew members often work 18 to 20 hours a day to super-sanitize cruise ships when there is a noro outbreak.

MSC Convicted of Treating Crew Members Like Slaves

MSC MagnificaA Brazilian labor court ordered the payment of fines, wages, overtime and "moral damages" to eleven (11) crew of the MSC Magnifica after finding that they had been subjected to working conditions similar to "slaves." You can read the order here.

According to Defonsoria Publica Da Uniao, in 2014 eleven crew members were "rescued" from the MSC cruise ship and alleged to have been forced to work up to 16 hours a day and were subjected to abuse and sexual harassment. We wrote about these allegations in April of 2014.

The testimony of a number of crew members was taken and indicated that other Brazilian crew members reaffirmed what was described as "appalling" working conditions on the MSC cruise ship.

In a blockbuster order, the labor court determined that crew members during contracts between eight to 12 months duration, the MSC crew members were required to work excessive hours and were mistreated. In addition to suffering intense bullying, the stewards and waiters had to work excessive daily hours (13-16 hours a day) without the right to adequate rest.

One Brazilian newspaper explained the plight of a MSC room steward from São Paulo who was bullied. Even working up to 18 hours straight, the crew member was called "lazy and a slut."

The labor court awarded R$ 330,000 to the eleven crew members.

Photo credit: Globo / Henrique Mendes / G1

Article credit: OVC - Organização de Vítimas de Cruzeiros

MSC Cruises denies that it engaged in any wrongful conduct and says that it intends to appeal  the labor court's decision.  Read MSC's full statement at the end of this article.

Netherlands Fines Royal Caribbean Over $750,000 for Overworking Crewmembers

A newspaper in the Netherlands reports that Royal Caribbean has to pay at least €600,000 in fines for violating labor rules and regulations while the Oasis of the Seas was in the Netherlands. The newspaper says that ship employees lacked proper residence papers and worked excessive hours. Some of the crew members worked "up to 16 hours per day" the inspectors found.

The newspaper explains that the Oasis was undergoing maintenance and repairs while in dry-dock in in Rotterdam last month. Inspectors at the Netherlands labor department informed Royal Caribbean Cruises in advance that when its cruise ship would be in Rotterdam it would have to adhere to Dutch Oasis of the Seasrules and legislation.

According to the newspaper, when ten inspectors boarded the Oasis they found certain working conditions to be in violation of Dutch law. This led to a second visit by 45 inspectors.

The inspections reportedly revealed that at least 48 crew members did not have proper Dutch work permits. The majority of these crewmembers were from the Philippines and South America.

The reported fine of at least €600,000 turns out to be over $760,000.The inspectors can access a fine of €12,000 per violation. The precise fine will be determined when the investigation is completed.

This fine may be an eye-opener for many people who are unfamiliar with the inner-working of the cruise industry. But it is business as usual as far as we are concerned.

When we interview Royal Caribbean crew members, without exception they tell us that the cruise line requires them to work in excess of the hours permitted by the Maritime Labour Convention. The ship employees have to arrive at work early and attend meetings but they are not permitted to clock in. When they work over 10 hours, they have to clock out and keep working. When they are pressed to work extra hours preparing for USPH inspections, they are required to work off the clock.

It remains to be seen whether Rotterdam receives any more work from Royal Caribbean in the future. Royal Caribbean has decided that the dry-dock repairs needed for sister ship Allure of the Seas will be performed in Cadiz, Spain.

Royal Caribbean has not responded to our request for a statement. 

October 15 2014 Update: A Dutch law firm indicates that 77 Philippines and 8 South-Americans worked on the Oasis without a permit. With a €12,000 fine per person, the fine could amount to one million euro’s. The Dutch firm is urging Royal Caribbean to appeal the fine, claiming that there is an exception for crew members working aboard sea going vessels.

October 16 2014 Update:  There is a very active discussion about this story on our Facebook page. Over 1,600 people have liked it, over 500 shared it and over 400 people have commented.  Most seem to be crew members. As the cruise line overworks and underpays its crew members, the cruise executives at Royal Caribbean enjoy over $100,000,000 in cruise stock. Read: The Rich Get Richer.  

If you have a thought, please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.  

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Baldwin040 Creative Commons 3.0  

Overworked & Underpaid on the High Seas

This weekend I read an interesting article in the Springfield Register-Guard about Royal Caribbean Cruises' plans to add employees at its call center in Oregon.

There are currently over 700 employees at the call center in Oregon, according to the newspaper. The cruise line is planning to add another 220 mostly full time employees.

What struck me about the article was the lucrative pay and benefits which the cruise line provides to its employees. The newspapers says "Royal Caribbean touts its modern facility, which includes a fitness center and cafeteria; base pay that starts at $8.85 to $10.50 an hour, not including incentive pay; Royal Caribbean Call Center Spinngfield Oregonhealth care insurance; a retirement plan; the chance to advance rapidly, and cruising privileges."

The cruise line also received lucrative incentives to open the call center back in 2006. The state of Oregon provided $1.3 million in incentives, including a $600,000 loan. The company was required to pay back only around $64,000. 

What a great employment package for the people in Oregon (especially compared to the Royal Caribbean operations in the U.K. which was out-sourced to Guatemala earlier this year). They can make over $400 working 40 hours a week, plus benefits, in a nice facility doing a cushy job. 

How does that compare to a cleaner from Jamaica who works on a Royal Caribbean ship 10 to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no time off and no benefits?  A cleaner on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship makes around $550 a month performing strenuous work under difficult circumstances, far from the comforts of home. That turns out to around $1.75 an hour. They are tied to contracts lasting anywhere from 6 to 9 months without a single day off.

The cruise line pays no taxes on the billions of dollars paid each year by cruise passenger, because it is incorporated in Liberia and it registers its ship under flags of convenience (Bahamas and Liberia) on its cruise ships. It rakes in millions and millions each year in profits. Its cruise executives, Mr. Fain and Mr. Goldstein, are collectively worth well over $100,000,000 because of the hard working and minimally paid crew, mostly from the Caribbean islands, east Europe, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The U.S. executives are swimming in cash while paying the "foreign" crew peanuts. 

There is something wrong when a U.S. call center employee sitting in a cubicle answering the phone for the cruise line can work less than one-half of the hours of a shipboard employee yet earn three times more, plus benefits and perks.   

 

Have a thought?  Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page

Don't forget to read:  

Cruise Law Visits Royal Caribbean in Oregon

Globalization at Work? Royal Caribbean's U.K. Call Center Outsourced to Guatemala

A Comment from a Former Crew Member: "So Many Injustices"

Cruise Law News from time to time will feature a comment to our articles by one of our readers.

Comments by crew members are often poignant. The cruise industry's current state of affairs places tremendous pressure on ship employees from Carnival, Royal Caribbean and other cruise lines. Hours are longer notwithstanding the lofty goals of the MLC 2006, pay is lower, cruise lines are stealing tips intended for the crew, and recently Carnival Cruise Lines terminated the crew's retirement benefits claiming that the MLC forced it to do so.  

Cruise Ship Working ConditionsHere's a portion of a comment by a former crew member we received today, expressing some of the angst felt by cruise ship employees:

"You have no idea what is daily "MORAL HARASSMENT"!

During some meetings regarding how afraid the ship's managers and "the office" were . . . of USPH. The F&B supervisors used to call us "THALIBAN", just because we are from that side of the planet ... many times we were called like that.

Most of you have no idea how hard it is to wash 800 plates, clean floors, chemical machines without a single glove in a 14 hours shift . . .

Yes, you may say ... we signed for that. No, we signed for what a smiling recruiting agent showed us how life onboard would be like. And we own money to them.

I left Carnival Cruise Lines and continued my studies. I am free now.

P.S. I met all kind of guest too. The wonderful ones and their families are my good friends now. Many crewmenbers too. But the bad stuff ... it probably flows from the Miami office to the ships ... they don't care.

So many injustices."

 

Watch Video: Sweatships - Working Conditions on Cruise Ships

Extreme Work Load & Grueling Hours Exhaust Royal Princess Crew Members

Royal Princess Cruise ShipA number of crew members have contacted us about the difficult work and long hours the crew are required to work aboard the Royal Princess cruise ship.

We are informed that 12 dishwashers signed off the Princess cruise ship in just the last 2 months because of what is being described as a heavy work load and extreme work hours, reportedly more than 14 hours work everyday.  Other crew members may be leaving as well before the cruise ship embarks on its transatlantic crossing to South Florida.

One of the problems which crew members face when a cruise ship repositions from Europe to the U.S. is that they have to work additional hours to prepare for inspections by the United States Public Health (USPH) inspectors. A failed USPH inspection is a kiss of death for a Food & Beverage supervisor or the senior managers of restaurant and galley operations. 

I'm sure that the guests aboard the newest Princess luxury cruise ship have no idea how hard and how long the crew members from Indonesian, Indian, and the Philippines work.

Leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Is Royal Caribbean Working Its Crew Members to Death?

Two weeks ago a television program in the U.K., "Cruises Undercover: The Truth Below Deck," revealed the harsh working conditions aboard cruise ships operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises' subsidiary, Celebrity Cruises. The difficult working conditions and low pay are almost unimaginable by U.S. standards: 12 plus hour days, 7 days a week, 30 days a month with no days off over the course of 6 to 10 month contacts, for as little as $550 a month for non-tip earning ship employees.

The result of such a grueling schedule is exhausted and demoralized crew members who are often isolated from their families whose birthdays and anniversaries they miss on a regular basis.  

The mental health and emotional well being of crew members is not a topic that is discussed in the U.S.

Few Americans seem concerned with the working conditions on cruise ships faced by citizens of the greater world community.  Most U.S. citizens respond to the exploitation of crew members from India or Jamaica with the rationalization that whatever pittance the "foreign" crew members are receiving for Missing Royal Caribbean Crew Membersworking 90 hour weeks is more than the workers can receive back home. "If they don't like the work, they can quit" is the common wisdom. No doubt many crew members are easily replaceable considering that a country like India has hundreds of millions of people unemployed.

A week before the "Cruises Undercover" program aired, a Royal Caribbean crew member disappeared from the Serenade of the Seas as it sailed to Italy. The incident was briefly mentioned in the Italian press, as well as in newspapers in Croatia and Spain. We mentioned it in our article "Crew Member Goes Overboard From Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas," but no major media outlets in the U.S. was interested in covering the story.

For a U.S. based cruise industry whose mantra is the "safety of our passengers and crew is our highest priority," there is little expression of such a sentiment when a crew member disappears at sea.

This weekend another Royal Caribbean crew member disappeared. While this is not uncommon as I will explain below, what is unusual is that the disappearance involved the the same Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the Serenade of the Seas. This incident was briefly mentioned in an Italian newspaper but, again, no one in the U.S, mentioned it.  We reported on it on Saturday - "Another Crew Member Goes Overboard From Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas." Now two days later, no one else in the U.S. has reported on the story.

Yesterday, I posted a photograph of the Serenade of the Seas on our Facebook page and asked "why are so many crew members going overboard from Royal Caribbean cruise ships? A number of former crew members commented and the consensus seems to be that cruise employees are working harder than ever for less money, One crew member said that working on a ship is "like going on a marathon before preparing yourself for it." Several former Royal Caribbean crew members left their thoughts which are worth reading. 

The concern that I have is that there are so many crew members employed by Royal Caribbean who have gone overboard. Were these employees overwhelmed by work and felt hopeless away from their families? There is great stress placed on the cleaners, cabin attendants and waiters by their supervisors and department heads as Royal Caribbean struggles to stay profitable. Consider that in the three years I have written this blog, the following crew members have gone missing from Royal Caribbean / Celebrity cruise ships:

December 2009 - Majesty of the Seas - crew member jumped.

December 2009 - Monarch of the Seas - crew member jumped.

March 2010 - Radiance of the Seas - crew member jumped.

May 2010 - Explorer of the Seas - crew member jumped.

May 2010 - Oasis of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

March 2011 - Grandeur of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

March 2011 - Constellation - crew member disappeared.

May 2011 - Eclipse - crew member jumped.

December 2011 - Summit - crew member jumped.

January 2012 - Monarch of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

September 2012 - Serenade of the Seas - crew member disappeared.

October 2012 - Serenade of the Seas -crew member disappeared.

The official investigation into these types of incidents lies with the flag state.  But countries like the Bahamas will never go onto a Royal Caribbean ship to investigate a crew death or disappearance and will never, ever criticize the cruise line.

An independent and objective investigation is needed to determine why crew members are going overboard from Royal Caribbean ships. If the cases involve suicides, an inquiry is needed to determine whether the long hours and low pay are contributing causes. There is no question that the crew members need greater rest and greater pay. 

If I ran a large business and one dozen of my employees ended their lives or just "disappeared," I would launch an investigation and get to the bottom of the problem.

But cruise line executives think differently.  None of this puts money in the cruise line's pockets. The crew are viewed as cogs in the machine. When they break, they are easily replaced. 

If you have a thought about this issue or have information about any of these cases, please leave a comment below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.  

Photograph: 24ORA.com

December 4, 2016 Update: A newspaper in Australia mentions this article in The One Issue You Should Consider Before Going On A Cruise. "Passengers just need to remember that the crew are working incredibly hard, and long hours, while they put their feet up on holiday. So tip them well and treat them with respect."