Sweatships: what it’s really like to work on board cruise ships
December 11, 2002 — Review
Written by Danny Reilly
This little booklet written by Celia Mather and published by the charity War on Want and the International Transport Workers’ Federation tells the horrific story that lies behind the luxury facade of the holiday cruise ships.
It is a tale reminiscent of the bad old days of the British Empire. Low wages and long hours for the Third World and east European workers below the water line, luxury living and leisure conditions for the mostly western tourists in their cabins and decks up above.
Seventy per cent of the 114500 workers on cruise ships are hotel and catering staff and are usually employed on short-term fixed contracts. The contracts are rarely specific to any one job, enabling the shipping companies to move the workers around at will. These seafarers are segregated both from the white officer and technician workers and, on pain of disciplinary action, from the passengers. But there is not only a colour/ race hierarchy; there is a sex element too. Increasingly, those low paid workers recruited for the ‘contact’ jobs with passengers are white east European women, even more so since 11 September 2001.
Recruitment – be it in Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America or eastern Europe – is often at a price. The charge to get a job frequently reduces the worker to a bonded labourer. Resistance to the harsh conditions is hampered both by hostility to trade unions by the cruise companies, and the practice of ethnically mixing crews to hinder communication, and thereby solidarity and unity. Legal remedies against the frequent violations of international laws and regulations are hampered by the use of ‘flags of convenience’ by the cruise companies. By registering ships in countries such as Panama, the Bahamas and Liberia, notorious for turning a blind eye to maritime regulations, the cruise companies can flout the law protecting seafarers’ rights.
In the face of the widespread exploitation of workers on cruises ships the ITF has launched a ‘cruise ship campaign’. Linked to this is War on Want’s ‘sweatships’ campaign in the UK. Through support for these campaigns, and the actions they coordinate, pressure is being brought to bear on the shipping companies. Read this booklet – it will help you see what is going on at sea. Then support the campaigns.
Sweatships: what it's really like to work on board cruise ships by Celia Mather is published by War on Want and ITF, London, 2002.
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.