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.
* 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.