Sweat, Sweat, Sweat

5 04 2008

Going on holiday frequently appears to be the norm for many, however instead of sunning in Spain it seems that cruises have become more commonplace, due to Lloyds Register World Fleet Statistics reporting an increase of over 700 Per Cent from 1980-2001.

The image of a cruise holiday is sold to people under the guise of being fun, magic, romantic and luxurious; this is also accompanied by the comfort of knowing that every whim will be met by willing crew members. Yet, such a picture-perfect view of cruises is also given to the employees, since many are often excited by the thought of working for world-famous cruise ships, such as Disney or Carnival, which will allow them to ‘see the world’ and earn money at the same time. However is this picture really the reality?

From reading War On Want and the International Transport Workers Federation’s report entitled Sweatships, I would definitely have to say that it isn’t, since in a nut shell, the following is happening behind-the-scenes of your cruise holiday:

* Extremely long working hours,
* Inadequate training, especially in the sphere of health and safety,
* Insecure, short-term contracts which leaves the employees without a stable job and living prospects, since they can be sacked at any time,
* Hostile employers that forbid collective solidarity of the workers. This, in reality, is illegal, since every worker has the right to belong or form a Trade Union,
* Low wages and high costs that leaves the employees in continuous poverty. This, combined with the illegal agents’ fees to get the people the actual jobs traps the employees into poverty even more.

If any of the above has not shocked you, then do read on, since it seems like this is just the tip of the iceberg!

“A ship owner can go any place in the world, pick up anybody he wants, on almost any terms. If the owner wants to maximize profit at the expense of people, it’s a piece of cake… It’s a sweatshop at sea.”
(Paul Chapman, founder of the Centre for Seafarers’ Rights in New York, May 2000)


The picture-perfect vision of a cruise holiday
(Copyright: CruiseVacations4U)

For one, there seems to be an apparent segregated labour force, with the division occurring not only by country-to-country and nationality, but also by the colour of one’s skin. The investigation found that by-and-large higher status employees come from industrialised countries and are able to enjoy more benefits, such as having a cabin above water-line, sharing with no more than two people, being able to eat at the restaurants that they work at and having access to passenger facilities, such as Internet Cafes.

Even though this done sound reasonably good, a high proportion of employees never get to see this, as they are forced to work below decks and face disciplinary action if they go above water-line. Many of these workers are from Eastern European countries and are made to eat leftover food. The majority of them also have small cabins that are shared by dozens of other workers, which is hardly fair compared to the lifestyle of the other workers.

This trend can be illustrated by a Carnival cruise ship manifest from 2000, due to the following segregation employment patterns:

* Engine Room: 39 men, mostly from Peru, Uruguay, Philippines and Romania.
* Cabin stewards: 46 men from Asia and Central America.
—–S—–E—–G—–R—–E—–G—–A—–T—–I—–O—–N—–
* Master/Marine Officers/Engineers: Mainly from Italy.
* Managers/Directors/Supervisors: Mainly from America.

Further discrimination is also present on cruise ships, however this time in terms of gender; this is highlighted particularly well by a Lithuanian worker that worked in Reception on the Ocean Glory. She told the investigation how the Purser’s cabins door was tellingly left open during their work-related meetings and how he put pressure onto her to sleep with him or “he couldn’t guarantee what might happen.”


The cruise ship in question – the Ocean Glory
(Copyright: SimplonPC)

Working hours also seem to be similar to those who ‘work’ in sweatshops, due to bar waiters, for example, being forced to work up to 15 hours per day. If this does not seem a lot to you, then imagine being forced to work overtime, for free, for hours and hours doing menial tasks after a 15 hour long shift. You certainly would be exhausted considering that you would be working weeks at a time without no breaks. Wouldn’t you be prone to exhaustion and fatigue? I imagine that you would!

Yet the poor treatment of cruise ship employees does not stop there, and is present through Cherie’s story. Cherie Scrivener, 19 years old, from Australia, worked as a beauty therapist on one of Carnival’s large ships entitled Triumph. It set sail from Miami, yet after just three weeks Cherie’s life was turned upside down.


Cherie Scrivener
(Copyright: War On Want/ITF – Sweatships)

A door closed on her foot and severed her Achilles tendon. Instead of being helped by members of staff from the cruise ship, Cherie was bundled off the ship with only one change of clothes, $300 and a scrap piece of paper with information on about the nearest hospital. She’d been sacked.

You may think that this may just have been one isolated incident, however it is happening right now all over the world. So, what can we do to prevent such incidents from happening? Well…

1) Read more about sweatships by clicking here.

2) If you are going on a cruise, then make sure the company you go with recognises trade union organisations. Do this by writing to them.

3) If you are going on a cruise and see any injustices, take action!

4) Put pressure on cruise ship companies by writing to them. A downloadable letter can be printed off at the GlobalWorkplace website.

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4 responses

6 04 2008
Nikcole

I went to a Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in the U.S. a couple of years ago. We had several different talks about working on a cruise ship. Intially, we heard some great reports, on how much money you could make, great experience opportunities, and so forth. A lot of us actually considered going on cruise ships for our 6 month externships that are required after we finished our classes. Then another chef came to us and gave us the real truth-that cruise ships offer the worst treatment in the industry. He said that they got away with this because the base of the operations for many of these cruise ships would be in a foreign land, usually south america I believe, and not the U.S.. This allowed them to get away with paying very little, below minimum wage, and offer sub-standard living conditions, and force the chefs to work excessive hours. One of the things that stood out in my mind was that the chefs would work 12 hour shifts, and then go to sleep, and they would sleep in the bed that someone else had been sleeping in while they were working. The inital positive reports we heard were put forth by the cruiseline companies who were trying to lure unsuspecting students into their ships.

I do know from what I’ve been told that Americans who have been educated at culinary schools have been subjected to these living conditions, not just people from other countries.

I am not sure if this is true in the U.K., but in the U.S. there lately has been a stigma against Cruise ships due to the number of people who have been getting sick and gone missing on them. The cruiselines don’t seem to be very helpful in such situations. Consequently with that plus economic issues, I doubt that they are getting the revenue that they have in the past.
Going on a cruise in not any more considered to be the choice for vacation here in the U.S..

Regardless though, we’ve got a real problem here. It just really bothers me that the cruiselines would pay chefs to spread these lies about the cruiseships in schools and be able to get away with it. Especially considering how young some of them are, as the average age at school was probably around 19. I couldn’t imagine being stuck doing that, and then wanting to leave, and not being able to. Or worse, being abandoned in some foreign country, forced to find your own way home.

We just can’t stand for it is what is boils down to. We can’t let people suffer for our benefit. We can’t just push this under the rug.

6 04 2008
John

I am not surprised that cruise ships behave this way. I have long heard horror stories about them. Shame on them!

6 04 2008
Raadhika

How awful! I feel so badly for Cheri. I wonder if she’s managed to get any help or money from Carnival? This is one of the reasons I won’t go on a cruise, I’m always hearing bad things like this about them.

16 04 2008
Laurie

People disappear on ships? Holy cripes.

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