"Freestyle cruising." Carefree and fun? Maybe for the NCL cruise passengers. But hardly for the crew.

After reading this decision, I’ll never think of "Freestyle cruising" as anything less than an abusive work system for the stewards on NCL cruise ships.  

The case I am referring to is the opinion released yesterday by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal: Wallace et al. v. NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., Docket No. 1:09-CV-21814-FAM.

The case involves senior cabin stewards who worked aboard NCL cruise ships. They filed suit under the Seaman’s Wage Act, 46 U.S.C. 10313, alleging that NCL did not pay them their full wages because their compensation did not take into account the money they were required to pay their helpers to NCL Freestyle Cruisingcomplete their work on embarkation days.

The federal district court found that additional wages were owed, but refused to award "penalty wages" under the Act. "Penalty wages" are owed in the amount of 2 days’ wages for each day payment is delayed. Once the delay or non-payment is proved by the seafarer, then the burden shifts to the cruise line to prove that the delay or non-payment was justified. On appeal, the federal appellate court affirmed the decision and concluded that there was no evidence of willful or arbitrary misconduct by NCL.

The appellate court’s opinion, which is here, is worth reading.

In a nutshell, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that NCL didn’t realize that a single senior cabin steward would be unable to clean 30 to 35 cabin and change and make 70 to 75 cabins in a few hours. It’s hard to understand how a court could be so naive. Of course, cabin attendants need assistance in doing all of this work in just around 4 hours.  Although the courts rejected the penalty wage claims, it’s still interesting to read the opinion to consider the difficulty and pressure of the work by stewards on NCL ships:     

"A passenger’s time spent on a cruise ship is typically very relaxing, at least until it is time to disembark. In this case, the defendant-appellee NCL (Bahamas) Ltd., (“NCL”) decided to make that last day of the voyage less stressful for its customers. To accomplish this goal, NCL implemented a new policy, called “Freestyle” cruising, which permits passengers to stay aboard for a longer time after the ship has docked on the last day of their voyage. Passengers, who would normally disembark very early, are allowed to stay on board until as late as 10:30 a.m. That is the good news.

The bad news, at least for the NCL employees who worked as senior stateroom stewards aboard the cruise ships, is that on that same day, while one group of passengers is leisurely disembarking, another group of passengers is eager to board and begin their cruise ship experience. Due to the arrival of these new passengers, NCL required the senior stateroom stewards to have all of the cabins cleaned by 2:00 p.m. This made it much more difficult for the senior stewards to timely complete their work. That is, although they began their work shifts at 7:00 a.m., for the most part, they were unable to begin cleaning the cabins until as late as 10:30 a.m. because the departing group of passengers was still enjoying their Freestyle cruise. This in turn allowed scant time to complete the assigned cleaning work by 2:00 p.m. In light of the substantial workload and the shortened time frame within which to complete it, most of the senior stewards adopted the practice of hiring helpers (out of their own pocket) to assist them in completing their work on embarkation day.

                                                       *                       *                     *

On embarkation day (the day a cruise ends, passengers disembark, and new passengers board), senior stewards had to clean between 30 and 35 cabins (although there was some dispute over how many beds 30 to 35 cabins contained, senior stewards had to strip and make at least 70 beds) before new passengers arrived. On these days, their responsibilities included: (1) stripping the beds of linens and sheets; (2) separating the linens and sheets; (3) making the beds; (4) dusting the cabins; (5) sanitizing the cabin’s handrails, door handles, closet doors, frequently touched areas, and telephones; (6) cleaning any used coffee pots and ice buckets; (7) separating the garbage into bottles, cans, paper, and plastic; (8) taking garbage to the incinerator; and (9) vacuuming the cabin and hallways. NCL had rigorous standards that required “immaculate” cabins and a quality control system to randomly check for cleanliness.

In 2000, NCL implemented its Freestyle cruising policy, which permitted passengers to stay on board later on embarkation day. This policy was designed to maximize relaxation for passengers. Prior to this time, NCL required passengers to disembark by 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. With Freestyle cruising, passengers could stay as long (or almost as long) as they wished. The senior stewards technically started their work at 7:00 a.m. on embarkation day, but under the Freestyle cruise system, passengers would leave their cabins much later. Indeed, few passengers would leave before 8:30 a.m., and most passengers did not disembark until 9:30 or 10:30 a.m. Because new passengers would venture to their rooms soon after boarding, NCL required that all cabins be cleaned by 2:00 p.m. This caused problems for NCL senior stewards on embarkation day. One NCL supervisor noted that with the Freestyle “concept we also advertise relax[ing] debark[ation] which puts another stress” on embarkation day.

Although junior stewards worked alongside the senior stewards, they offered little or no help, and in fact had their own separate work responsibilities. The senior stewards therefore had to complete a substantial workload in a shortened timeframe. And, if they failed to finish their assignments or rushed their work, they faced a quality control process that could lead to verbal and written reprimands. Thus, the senior stewards had to hire helpers to complete their duties on embarkation day."

  • Emily

    Thank you for sharing this with your readers. Too many people have no clue the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes, and the lengths that crewmembers will go to complete the work to the cruise line’s satisfaction.

  • Mihaela

    You should check more as the NCL’s crew members are much more miserable that they look like. Not only in HK department are this kind of situations. If you ask most of the crew what are their satisfactions on board this company ships you’ll be surprised… They just go to work as robots, smile as is a MUST not because they enjoy it, and they can’t wait for their shifts to be over and to RUN to their cabins. So little you know about crew members on NCL ships…

  • Margarida Miguéis

    I will not forget this…..no freestyle cruise for me anymore!

  • xyz

    Turnaround days are HORRIBLE for the crew especially the Cabin Stewards. They start very early around 5.30 AM and the crew mess only starts after 6 AM. So normally they get very little time for Breakfast. Passengers are required to vacate the cabin latest by 8 AM but most dont. Additional help is taken from the Laundry crew and night workers ( mostly dishwashers)from different departments, who are paid by the Cabin stewards from their own pockets/tips. Around 20 cabins have to be prepared by 2 AM, sparkling clean. “First Impression is the last impression”. Then starts the process of taking their baggage to the cabin, heavy heavy bags more than 40 kg although 23 kg is clearly mentioned.

  • John Goldsmith

    The folks who work in any industry, will all have extremely busy moments, hours, days etc. I know that I do. That is also part of the job that they signed up for. On the last cruise I was on, NCL “by the way” our Stewart had been with them for 14 years. We wanted for nothing and he was tipped generously for all his efforts.
    I agree that the turnaround for ALL cruise lines is way too fast to properly prepare the vessel for departure. This includes cleaning and sanitizing the whole vessel, let alone the rooms.But they are in a service industry and nowhere in that industry does fair ever come into play. Profit does.
    If a way could be determined to re-supply and service the vessel without a loss of revenue to the corporation, I would love to see it.
    Just sayin….

  • nap

    I love NCL.this is where I worked before.I like the ship and crew but since they imposed so much tight policies that it seems like were superhuman to work such limited time and unjustified salary,then thats the reason most of us left NCL…

  • CDC…outbreaks

    I’m sure this has an effect on outbreaks. Why hasn’t CDC pieced together yow this might be contributing to outbreaks?

  • xyz

    When you see happy smiling crew and crew saying that they are very happy, don’t be fooled. All the crew are lying or made to lie. Because if someone says otherwise then some passengers will bring it to the notice of senior management believing that they are helping the crew, little realising that it will lead to their dismissal from the ship and blacklisted from the company.

    If someone works for 270 days without a day off for 10-14 hours a day from 7AM-11PM with too many small breaks (useless), away from their family,on top of it the discrimination/politics faced in the workspace, how can they not be sad? You dont have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out.

    Waiters on P&O cruises, Carnival company made the company change their monthly salary from around £260 to around £700 plus

    £150 as a good conduct bonus if there are no warnings during the months otherwise u lose the £150 additional £50 every month are withheld to be given at the end of the contract

    A variable Performance bonus of £0 -£350 depending on Rank and the CSQ scores achieved during the cruise. So even if the CSQ score as high as 90% is achieved the crew will get £0 performance bonus.

    Waiters are not expected to receive any tips from passengers as £1.8 per day are witheld per passenger to be given to the waiters.

    Total waiters — 120
    Total passengers — 2000

    Total tips = 2000*1.8*30 = £108000
    Tips/waiter = £108000/120 = £900

    Average monthly salary including bonus is approx £1000, so actually all the tips are the salary of crew and crew don’t get a real salary from the company. Free food, free accommodation is required under MLC 2006.

    p.s. If you bring hard facts to public attention you will get fired

  • Rodel

    The reward is worth it. I earn about 4 thousand plus a month and am building a house back home for 40 thousand dollars. In 18 months I will have my house. In three years I will have two houses, in 5 years I will ahve three houses. For us Filipino we dont mind to work hard for our families

  • Brenda Pelletier

    Just saw this while trying to find the young man named “Sopi”, a Cabin Steward on NCL “Breakaway” for Rm 9922. I know he worked very, very hard. My husband and I took good care of him. Reading this, I wish we would have known this before hand. I’m even happier that we were provided such a great Cabin Steward. I sincerely hope this suit brings about change for the better for what I personally observed to be really, really hardworking crew. “Sopi” and I were going to stay in touch, I inadvertently (ok, a blonde, senior moment) reversed my email address. SOOOOOOO if anyone on NCL Breakaway sees this and knows Sopi let him know Mark and I care

  • cris fracassi

    These crew members make plenty of money with there tips. The only neg. thing I see is the time away from family. I dont know why Jim Walker is saying they cant start cleaning rooms till 1030am as you have to be out of your room by 830 am with freestyle. Every job even in the US has people working just as hard and long hrs.

  • Raffy Gatal

    They should require 2 cabin stewards to clean 35 rooms if they want to end quickly or early in every rooms. If no back-up I think 4 hours is not enough to finish the job. Another think here if the passenger decide not wanting to clean their rooms then you have to leave it go to another room and if there is put DND then you just leave it away you can save too much energy.

  • Slava

    This is not only on NCL Cruise Lines it is on Oceania and Celebrity as well.On Celebrity cruise lines Stewardess/steward have to pay from oun pocket for any help.Thay have to serve room service what is not belong to them and thay have to pay Chef Housekeeper for decline service .Its a shame that guest don’t pay for services and more is a shame that company alow to the management to take money from hardly working crew.