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Cruise Ship Crews – Overworked and Underpaid?

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Anyone who has ever cruised knows the crew on ships work extremely hard. The crew on most cruise ships is comprised of a multinational group of people from countries all over the globe; mostly countries where the average annual income is very low; the unemployment is high, and the opportunities for finding a lifetime career are slim.
As a cruiser you’ve likely seen your dining room servers working in the ship’s buffet restaurant early in the morning, then again serving afternoon tea, or various cocktail parties, then again in the dining room when you go in for dinner. These crew members work split shifts, seven days a week, on contracts as long as 10 months at a time.
They may be working from 5 A.M. – 11 A.M., get a few hours off, work again from 2 P.M. to 4 P.M., and back at work from 5 P.M until 11 P.M. When passengers disembark for the day when the ship is in port, the crew is still working. They do not get the day off. They may get a couple of hours off, where they normally catch up on their rest, or make a quick trip to the local Wal Mart to pick up odds and ends essentials, find a cheap internet café to send emails home, or occasionally a phone center to call their families at home.

Similar type of scheduling to this is the basic standard for anyone working in the ship’s “hotel departments”, which would include bartenders, bar servers, cooks, waiters and waitresses, cabin stewards, laundry staff, etc.

Entertainment departments, casino staff, shop staff, as well as officers do have much more liberal time off when in port, and their departments are closed.

As hard as these people work, and as long as the hours they are called on to work, none are forced to take these jobs. No on is enslaved, and made to work these long hours. They do so voluntarily, and we do have to keep that in mind.

Three years ago I began a process of sponsoring a care-giver from the Philippines to come to work as a live-in care-giver for my elderly mother. It took 18 months to get the necessary government approvals before she could come from the Philippines to accept the job. She gladly waited that long, for the process to complete, for the opportunity to accept the job.

Granted, she doesn’t have to work as many hours as cruise line employees, and she gets two days off every week. However, she is not highly paid, yet, like cruise line crew, every month when she gets her paycheck, she sends much needed money back to her family in the Philippines.

She is single, but there are many others like her and those working on ships, who are married and have children back in the Philippines, who they leave at home under the care of their husbands, wives or parents. I discussed with her the reasons why so many are willing to undertake such a difficult task, of leaving their families, spouses, and children in order to accept these demanding jobs.

Her answer, and I’m sure that of thousands of others, is simple; you work hard for the years when you are young which hopefully enable you to help ensure a better life for yourself later on.

This philosophy isn’t all that different from the “American way”; work hard and hope to achieve long term success. The difference is, the standards of that success are very different in many countries around the world. We are blessed with the opportunity to have success mean it gives us a higher standard of living than so many people around the globe. However, for the crew working on cruise ships, their hard work can reward them with an otherwise unobtainable standard of living for them and their families.

The people seeking these crew jobs on ships in fact, sometimes pay employment agencies in their home countries, up to $5000 to get their foot in the door, for the opportunity to get a job on a ship. Once they do get the job, most work very diligently to keep those jobs; many continue to do so for a decade or more.

While we can and should very much appreciate their hard work, which contributes to our enjoyment of our cruises, none of us should feel guilty about their circumstances. Without us, all the members of the crew on all the cruise lines wouldn’t likely have the opportunity to earn as much they do. Indeed they’d most likely have to work just as hard to earn less, and that’s even more true now in a struggling world economy.

As my father used to say when I was growing up (and likely yours too) – “hard work never hurt anyone”.

Those of us who cruise are fortunate to live in countries where our hard work can achieve a “higher standard of living”, but those in countries less fortunate, consider themselves fortunate as well to get the opportunity to improve their “financial life” compared to the standards in their home countries.

You can feel good rewarding the crew for their hard work, and their service to you. No doubt they will appreciate it very much. But, don’t for a minute think that they don’t want those jobs badly.

Their mind set is different because their circumstances are different. But so too are the circumstances of people in your own home communities. You can feel sad about the tough circumstances the crew and many other people find in all parts of the world, but don’t feel bad that your vacation dollars assist in supplying income to some of those people, which can even be higher than that “professionals” are earning in their native countries.

– A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising –








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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time March 30, 2011 at 6:45 am

How nice of you, and how nice for your mother, that you were able to sponsor someone to look after your mothers needs, I commend you for this, a truly selfless act, one of love.

When I cruise, and I sail very often, I do not want to be told these certain things, and one cruise line, in particular, is, or was, guilty of having crew members harping on these issues. In no specific order, they are:

The cruise line keeps our tips, or most of it

We pay for our uniforms

We pay for better food on the ship

We never have any time off

I can barely send enough money home to my family

And the griping about all the hard work they are forced to do, treated like dogs

I will leave this cruiise line as “annonymous” – it is one I frequented at least 3 times per year,. and now, due to other issues on their ships, I have chosen never to sail with, including the above.

I do not sail on any ship to hear any of the above from the crew, any crew, on any ship or cruise line. They have their jobs, and they shold perform they admirably.

On the other side of this issue, it seems that the “better” cruise lines, and we all know which ones they are, give ample time off, whole days, for their crew members, often passengers are invited to join them at a beach, or join them a a cafe where they buy the passenger a drink (it happens to me, often).

Many crew members, mainly European and South African, are university grads, trained in the art of hospitality, hotel and restaurant, and highly professional. It shows in their job and reflects in their personalities. They would no more talk about their salary than I would discuss finances with them. Many return home to open cafes B&B’s and restaurants. I still run into crew members from years ago, from Cunard, Home Lines, and RVL and others, and boy, they stories we tell My, my!

That is just another side of the coin, so as to speak, the main stream versus the luxury cruise lines, and they personnel.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time March 30, 2011 at 4:04 pm

We were on a cruise to New England and Canada a couple years ago and our waiter and his wife (who, oddly, was the head waiter for our section and therefore supervised her husband) were both from the Philippines. They had worked the cruise lines for several years as a stepping stone. Our waiter told us they had already accrued enough money to buy a rice warehouse operation back home, had bought it and they even had employees working for them. Both of them planned to work one more contract and then head back home to live their dream of owning their own business and being financially sound. I really liked them and admired them. By the way, they were both outstanding at their cruise line jobs. Not that it would surprise anyone.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time March 31, 2011 at 4:20 am


My point exactly. The moaners are just trying to get the sympathetic ears of naive passengers hoping to get additional tips. I obviously never fall for it.

Any person hired by a cruise line that does an exemplary job, deserves to have a wonderful future as you have pointed out while builing friendships with passengers, which for me is an integral part of my cruise, knowing and sharing lifes experiences while enjoying a future life of contentedness.

Comment from John
Time March 31, 2011 at 9:42 pm

As well as the shipping companies passengers can treat these people badly. They are no different to you or I and saying they are not forced to work in these conditions is a pretty weak excuse for the hours they have to work. Corporations need to know ” greed is not good “

Comment from Gustavo
Time April 1, 2011 at 7:51 am

I worked in Carnival Cruise Line some years ago. That was no overwork, was slavery.

They offered us in our country a good job of 8 hours per day, 6 days a week, with an average salary + tips of about of $ 1.800.

They even told us that the company policy was to not allow workers to do more than 10 hours per day.

The company kept our passport and our return flight ticket, and conditions where different:

– Work 7 days a week.
– 2 days of 20 hours.
– 2 days of 18 hours.
– 2 days of 16 hours.
– 1 day of 12 hours.

The salary: $ 45 (no mistake, fourty five dollars).

Tips: Whatever the passenger wants to give… could be CERO.

Our course, all ships are registered under third world county flags and US Government officials are bribed. When I resigned, the company took me with a guard through customs and immigration without anyone checking my documents or luggage.

Kept me locked up (kidnapped) in a security service office and escorted me inside de airplane back to my country… just then I got back my passport.

Worst experience in my life.

Comment from Elshad
Time September 27, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Good day I am second engineer I am looking for job.

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