Later this morning, Seatrade’s State of the Global Cruise Industry Conference, moderated by CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg, will feature four cruise executives: Frank Del Rio, President & CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd, Arnold Donald, President & CEO, Carnival Corporation, Richard Fain, Chairman & CEO, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman, MSC Cruises.
Three additional cruise line leaders will conclude the presentation: Charles A. Robertson, Chairman & CEO, American Cruise Lines, Edie Rodriguez, President & CEO, Crystal Cruises, and Tara Russell, President, Carnival Corporation’s Fathom (‘impact travel").
Shortly, if this Seatrade is like any other, we will hear about the growth of the industry and the increasingly larger cruise ships built to accommodate the 24,000,000 people who will decide to vacation on the high seas this year. There is no doubt that the cruise industry, a rich and powerful industry, continues to grow at a record pace.
But there will be little mention of the hard work by the tens of thousands of crew members from around the world who are the backbone of the industry. Seatrade Global (and its predecessor Cruise Shipping Miami) measures itself in terms of the number of the passengers and giant ships and the money which these cruise customers and cruise ships generate for the ports and the industry as a whole. The cruise executives will tell us about a Florida port, Port Everglades, just setting a new record for the most cruise ship passengers in a single day, 54,700 passengers last Sunday.
But the cruise executives will not mention an incident this weekend in Port Everglades, the day before the port set a new record for passengers, when a Royal Caribbean crew member threatened to jump off the Oasis of the Seas. Are cruise lines pushing their crew members too hard for too little?
Crew members are working harder and longer than anytime in the history of the cruise industry. MLC2006 was suppose to result in the protection of the crew members, by ensuring that men and women who work on ships at sea are guaranteed a reasonable number of time resting. But, in reality, crew members hired as waiters state that they can’t log their time in when they arrive in the dining hall at 6:30 A.M to prepare their stations for the rush of passengers who enter the dining rooms for a 7:00 A.M breakfast. And they are often required to sign out and continue to work "off the clock" when they exceed the maximum hours theoretically limited by MLC2006.
Crew members also complain that they attend meetings only during their "breaks." Many crew member who accurately log their long hours into the electronic time systems have their real hours worked changed by managers to comply with the MLC2006 auditors hired by the Carnivals and Royal Caribbeans. Take a minute and read the comments left by crew members on our Facebook page commenting on the sad state of MLC2006 non-compliance by the major cruise lines today.
I recently posted a question on Facebook which I asked several years ago whether Royal Caribbean was working its crew members to death? Crew members left insightful information and quickly added that its not just Royal Caribbean working its crew members too hard but it is an industry wide problem. When a galley worker newly hired on a Princess cruise ship, the Island Princess, ended his life last week, another round of criticism followed. Are cruises bosses uninterested in crew welfare as they seek record profits on their gigantic ships?
Crew members like waiters, cabin attendants, galley workers and cleaners work regular 12+ hour days, seven days a week, for months at a time. They work even harder and longer when their cruise ships call on U.S. ports and their department heads are concerned of a surprise USPH inspection as well as when norovirus breaks out and "enhanced cleaning" is required.
The industry’s trade organization, CLIA, meanwhile touts in a recent tweet that "Our work never ends. Crewmembers continually clean & sanitize cruise ships to ensure passenger & crew #health." True indeed as far as "continually cleaning" goes. Yes, this may be one of the few CLIA statements that is factually true given the seemingly endless hours worked by the crew. But there is no overtime or extra pay when the crew members work around the clock as a recent gastrointestinal outbreak during an Oceania cruise demonstrated. Crew members reported working 18 to 20 hours a day.
The cruise executives know that such long hours result in low morale and burn-out, but they look the other way. Ironically, cruise executive Micky Arison just re-tweeted a post by @ProjectTimeOff designed to encourage potential Carnival cruise customers to take time off from work and cruise – "The truth is out: time off work reduces burnout, improves morale, and boosts creativity." @MickyArison tweeted "Absolutely the case on a #cruise." Maybe so if you’re a guest.
Absolutely not if you are a crew member.
Photo credit: Getty Images