It never ceases to amaze me how many people, despite never having stepped foot on a cruise ship, let alone worked on one, suddenly become subject matter experts on industry forums. I recently read a crazy piece on a popular cruise blog about crew members being ‘made to work in squalid conditions’ for ‘very little money.’ Having worked for several cruise lines in various roles, from the lowest ranking positions to some of the highest, I believe I’m somewhat better qualified to comment more objectively.
While it is true that compensation, benefits and working conditions vary from company to company (as they do in any land based organization), there are many perks to working on cruise ships, and crew members are never ‘forced’ to do anything they don’t want to do.
Allow me to shed some light on three of the more ridiculous statements that were made in this particular blog…
1. “Crew members work in excess of 100 hours per week”
Hours of work vary from position to position, but an average working week for many cruise companies is 70 hours over 7 days. If you’re working 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, five days a week and traveling an hour to and from the office every day, the hours are very similar. The only difference is that crew members typically work the weekend too, although time off is granted whenever possible. It’s also pertinent to mention that contract length generally runs from 10 weeks to 8 months depending on the position, but this is followed by a lengthy vacation period, averaging 6-10 weeks.
2. “Crew members practically work for free”
Some crew members have fixed salaries, while others have a lower base rate that is supplemented by passenger gratuities. The more reputable cruise operator will still include a minimum monthly guarantee, and full compensation details must be outlined in the seafarers’ agreement (contract of employment) which the crew member has an opportunity to review, in full, prior to signing or joining the ship. Many crew members choose a career onboard because they are able to save the majority, if not all of their earnings. As food, accommodation, utilities, medical insurance and travel is paid for by the company, overheads are minimal. Additionally, there are many tax benefits for seafarers, and many nationalities find basic salaries well above their national average.
3. “Crew members have no rights if they work on a ship that is registered outside of the US”
When determining where a cruise ship will be ‘flagged’, the cruise operator will consider several factors, including but not limited to, the capabilities of the flag to deliver the services needed, the reputation and performance of the flag state, the pool of seafarers able to meet the needs of the flag, and the relevant fees and taxes. Since the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (otherwise known as the Seafarer’s Bill of Rights) entered into force, all vessels registered in countries that ratified the convention (the majority of the world’s gross tonnage of shipping) must abide by the requirements. The small minority of cruise ships that are registered in countries that haven’t ratified the convention are still obliged to follow the standards if they sail into the waters of those countries that have.
The majority of cruise operators go above and beyond the requirements of national laws to ensure their employees are safe, happy and comfortable. That said, shipboard life isn’t for everyone, and unless you are exposed to it first-hand, you’ll never really know if it’s a fit. Either way, nobody is going to hold you hostage!