- Working on a cruise ship may sound like an exciting opportunity for those who like to travel, but the reality of many cruise ship jobs is far less glamorous, two lawyers who represent cruise line workers and passengers told Business Insider.
- The hours are long, the pay is low, and initial medical care for injuries can be inadequate.
- Cruise lines can get away with treating their lowest-paid workers poorly because they recruit them from countries with limited economic opportunities, the lawyers said.
Working on a cruise ship may sound like an exciting opportunity for those who like to travel, but the reality of many cruise ship jobs is far less glamorous, two lawyers who represent cruise line workers and passengers told Business Insider.
Often signed to six or eight-month contracts, cruise ship employees often work seven days a week for a minimum of 12 hours per day, while making anywhere from around $550-$2,000 per month, Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer for Walker and O’Neill, said.
“They’re overworked and they’re underpaid,” he said.
And those who have the most physically demanding jobs, like waiters and cleaners, tend to receive inadequate medical care when they first report an injury, Walker said. Often, they’ll be given pain medication and sent back to work, even if their injury requires more serious attention. And some employees are fearful of even reporting pain or complaining about their working conditions in any way, as doing so can lower their odds of receiving a new contract, Walker said.
Cruise lines can get away with treating their lowest-paid workers poorly because they recruit them from countries with limited economic opportunities, Michael Winkleman, a maritime lawyer for Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina, and Winkleman, said.
“For [cruise ship employees] the story is always the same,” he said. “In their home country, they can maybe make a few hundred dollars a month, whereas, for a lot of the jobs on the ship, they can make a few thousand dollars a month. So the opportunity to make good money for themself and for their family is tremendous. Thus, they’re willing to suffer through difficult labor conditions and being mistreated.”
The Caribbean, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe are major sources of cruise ship employees, and only about 5% of cruise ship employees are American citizens or residents, Walker said. Americans don’t take the worst jobs, and tend to work instead as ship directors or entertainers, he added.
When cruise ship workers are mistreated, they have few options, Walker and Winkleman said. Cruise lines often register their businesses and ships in countries — like the Bahamas, Panama, and Bermuda — with relatively lax labor laws, a practice known as “flying a flag of convenience.” And cruise lines often include clauses in employee contracts that require them to use arbitration to resolve conflicts, restricting their employees’ ability to sue them. Arbitration can produce favorable outcomes for an employer, since in some cases it can hire the arbitrator, which may create pressure for the arbitrator to give the employer a more favorable ruling to increase the odds of receiving future business.
Combined, the above factors make cruise ships difficult places to work for many employees.
“I would call it ‘purgatory at sea,'” Winkleman said.