Yesterday was the "Day of the Seafarer," which is sponsored by the International Maritime Organization ("IMO") on June 25th every year. It was interesting to watch the cruise industry’s trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), promote the day on it’s social media pages like Twitter and Facebook.     

Crew members on cruise ships find themselves in a precarious position in 2016. Cruise lines overwork and underpay crew members from countries like the Philippines, India and Indonesia with impunity. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Carnival pay no U.S. taxes by incorporating themselves in foreign countries like Liberia and Panama and registering their ships in third world countries like the Bahamas (the New York Times just published Tax Dodging on the High Seas). Although cruise ships are collecting record billion-dollar profits each year, they provide no job security, no meaningful union representation, or Day  of the Seafarerbasic benefits like retirement programs of any significance. Moreover, cruise lines have taken an adversarial attitude against their ship employees where they have systematically stripped crew members of the legal rights historically reserved for seamen. 

Here are at least seven ways that cruise lines are abusing crew members today:

Cruise Lines Unreasonably Overwork Crew Members – Cabin attendants, galley employees and waiters and other crew members work a minimum of ten to twelve hours a day, sometimes far more, seven days a week, for eight to ten months a year. They have no time off.  It’s all legal because cruise lines don’t have to comply with U.S. labor laws due to their foreign incorporation and flags of convenience.  Cruise lines are supposed to have been obligated to work their crew members a maximum number of hours with mandatory rest periods pursuant to MLC2006. But many companies flaunt the maritime labor code. Crew members are still often prohibited from logging in to work when they appear on duty to prepare their work stations or attend meetings. Department heads and supervisors often force crew members to sign out of the Kronos time system and keep working "off the clock." Compliance with the strict USPH standards leads to the managers overworking the crew. I chronicled the abuse aboard the Oceania Riviera earlier this year where crew members were forced to work 18 to 20 hours a day.

The excessive manual labor is hazardous to the crew members physical and mental health. "Cumulative trauma disorder" is a term I learned while representing crew members working for Royal Caribbean.  Sometimes the pressure causes crew members to snap, as this recent altercation between a cook and a chef demonstrates, and it may be one reason perhaps why there are so many suicides at sea.

Univision Noticias and the Columbia Journalism School just published an exhaustive research project and multi-media presentation "Vacation in No Man’s Sea" with a section on the abuse of cruise ship employees – Sweatshop On The High Seas (by Damia S. Bonmati). 

Cruise Lines Under-Pay Crew Members:  Crew members working these insane hours are often paid exclusively by passenger tips. It’s quite a scam where the non-tax paying cruise line require their tax-paying U.S. guests to pay the cabin attendants and waiters for the long hours they work. Cruise lines are all increasing their automatic gratuities with the implication that the extra nickel-and-dimming is for the crew members. But the reality is that the cruise lines are either diverting the tips to pay the non-tip-earning employees’ salaries or they just steal the money outright. Meanwhile, many passengers refuse to pay the auto-gratuities and then refuse to pay any tips to the crew

Cruise Lines Prohibit Crew Members from Organizing or Protesting –  A number of readers suggest that crew members should organize and protest their mistreatment.  But the last time that crew members protested low wages, Carnival fired all of the waiters on one of its cruise ships and black-balled the crew members from the cruise industry.

Cruise Lines Fire Crew Members at Will – Crew members know that if they complain about the working hours, or the pay, or the stolen tips, they will find themselves on a one-way flight back to Mumbai. Cruise lines, notwithstanding the language in the employment contracts about the right to appeal, etc., can terminate the employment of a crew member for any reason, good reason, bad reason or no reason. Cruise lines often terminate the jobs of crew members who complain of work-related injuries and can do so with little legal recourse.  We receive literally dozens of emails a month from crew members back in India or in east Europe who have completed their medical treatment and are at MMI ready to return to work and have waited for months without word from the hiring partner trying to get back to work. They are being played by the cruise lines and are waiting in vain. 

Cruise Lines Provide Few If Any Benefits to Crew Members – A couple of years ago, Carnival terminated the retirement program for Filipino crew members, some of who had worked over a decade for the company. Royal Caribbean still has a nominal retirement benefit, around $5,000 if a crew member works for 10 years. If Royal Caribbean follows the Carnival model, it won’t be around when RCCL crew members retire in the next few years.

Cruise Lines Force Crew Member to "Arbitrate" Their Disputes – Following NCL’s decision to send the cases of Filipino families of  crew members killed in the boiler explosion on the SS Norway in 2002 to Manila for arbitration under the POEA, all U.S. based cruise lines (except Disney Cruises) inserted mandatory arbitration clauses in crew member employment contracts. By doing so, cruise lines stripped the rights of seafarers to file suit in the United States before a judge and jury. Cruise lines also inserted foreign law from countries like Panama, or Bermuda or the Bahamas into employment agreements which have few laws protecting seafarers.   

Cruise Line are Working to Strip Crew Member from the Protection of All U.S Law which Protect Seafarers at Sea – Lobbyists for CLIA have convinced certain lawmakers to insert anti-crew member legislation as add-ons to bills before Congress designed to strip the protections of seafarers from U.S. laws such as the Jones Act,  which has provided the right of seafarers to sue maritime employers who act negligently, in U.S. courts.  This has been the centerpiece of crew member maritime law for 96 years. CLIA has been at the forefront of these efforts. It panders to the sentiment of some US. lawmakers that U.S. courts should be be closed to "foreign" seamen notwithstanding the fact that the cruise industry is essentially comprised of nothing but foreign corporations (except NCL America), based here in Miami, which benefit from their free use of over 25 federal agencies like the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, USPH, and the CDC not to mention the tremendous protection of the cruise lines’ vast revenues by loopholes in our U.S. tax code.

Many cruise fans selfishly feel that paying a fair wage to crew members will result in higher fares to them. Their arguments that crew members "make more than at home" or "they can quit if they don’t like it," seem like flippant "let them eat cake" afterthoughts.  Meanwhile fat-cat executives like NCL’S Frank Del Rio make obscene salaries and perks (CEO Del Rio alone raked in almost $32,000,000 last year). 

Don’t let CLIA’s recent hollow praise to seafarers fool you. This is a cruise industry which is busy screwing crew members at every turn – at sea, in the courtroom, and in Congress. 

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

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."

A dozen newspapers in the U.K. have reported on P&O Cruises’ decision to pay its crewmembers a basic salary of 75 pence an hour (around $1.20 an hour) which turns out to be approximately $400 a month. Cash tips are being phased out with automatic gratuities being added to the passengers’ bills. But rather than forwarding the passengers tips to the crew, the cruise line has threatened to withhold tips if the crewmember’s rating falls below 92 percent.

In grade school, a 92 is an "A-."  So if a waiter who works a minimum of 11-12 hours a day (330-360 hours a month) receives a 91 (a "B+"?), management will pocket the tips?  

The Guardian newspaper reports that P&O Cruises justifies the move claiming that it is actually "good" for the crewmembers because many tourists don’t tip.  It quotes David Dingle, CEO of Carnival UK, in charge of P&O cruise lines, saying that the crew were allegedly "much happier" and P&O’s pay scale is "standard for the industry."

Some passengers reported that many of the crewmembers on a P&O cruise ship, mostly Indians, were India - Impoverished Crew - Exploitationat the point of tears upon hearing the news.

Carnival U.K. CEO Dingle tells the Guardian that "we have a manning office in Mumbai. There are queues out on to the street."  Ah, the desperate lining up, praying that Mr. Dingle will bestow them with the opportunity to work 350 hours a month for $400.

This no reason to exploit people.  But it is a revealing insight into why Carnival and P&O exploit their employees. They can and therefore they will. 

The U.N. reports that over 410,000,000 people from India are living below the poverty level.

Dingle is also right about low pay being what he calls "standard for the industry."

Carnival and Royal Caribbean in the U.S. pay cleaners from Jamaica as little as $545 a month. They expect them to grind out 12 hours days for 6 to 8 months straight.  For a 31-day-month, that’s 372 hours for $545, less than $1.50 an hour.  And when the crewmembers’ bodies break, the cruise lines dump them back home without medical care and treatment. 

Corporate Watch has an interesting article which characterizes the low P&O pay as shameful.  Fares for the Carnival Legend range between $2,798 and $6,458 per passenger for a 12 day cruise around northern Europe. Yet, P&O workers would need to work for 500 days straight to pay for a cruise themselves, assuming that they did not spend a single penny of their wages.

Carnival Corporation has annual revenues of $15.8 billion in 2011 and profits of $2.2 billion.  Micky Arison is Florida’s richest person with a net worth of many billions.  But Arison is no Gandhi.  You will find him counting his billions on his 200′ super-yacht or on the front row of the AA arena in Miami watching his hundred million dollar super-star basketball players.  Trust me, he’s not worried about Indian waiters getting their tips.   

I can’t imagine working 350 hours a month for $400, hoping that the guests I slaved away for would reward me a score higher than a 92.  An "A" or no tip?  You would think that a company earning billions a year (tax free to boot) wouldn’t jack up a crew member for $150 in tips. But there is no satisfying this type of corporate greed.   

But who cares?  There are many young Indian men in line at the hiring agency in Mumbai hoping to be the next one to be hired to work aboard a P&O cruise ship.