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Page context: Home > Resources > Inside the Issues > Cruise > Briefing: Cruise > 2002: Rescuing Cinderella
A familiar tale“They take these jobs thinking they’ll have time off to sunbathe by the pool. But they’re lucky to see daylight.” This is how Jim Given, ITF Cruise Ship Campaign Co-ordinator, sums up how young, idealistic, well educated men and women are being seduced into slavery on luxury liners cruising to exotic locations. Suicide, sexual abuse, extortion, abandonment, bribery and beatings are all common.
The ITF set up its Cruise Ship Campaign Office in Florida in June 2000. Within a year 5,000 claims had been processed, 2,000 abandoned seafarers had been dealt with and over US$5.3 million recovered in back pay.
SIRCThe Seafarers’ International Research Centre (SIRC) at Cardiff University is researching the employment of women seafarers: who they are, the jobs they do and the issues facing them. Minghua Zhao of the SIRC has analysed material from 104 crew lists on 83 cruise ships calling at some of the world’s major ports as part of this ITF-funded project. More than 100 interviews have been conducted in Europe, North America and Asia with shipping managers, crewing agents, trade unionists, naval architects, port and sailing chaplains and seafarers of both genders and all ranks. Zhao’s final report is being prepared. Below are two samples previewing some of her findings.
Women in demand – but not always for the right reasonsWomen now make up nearly 20 per cent of the workforce on board cruise ships. Young, well-educated women with experience of working in prestigious hotels, bars and restaurants (and who speak fluent English) are in demand, especially by the industry in some Asian and Eastern European countries.
But only those who are young and of European extraction are likely to be in the public eye, and, while women may be pursers, cruise directors, financial controllers, housekeepers, food and beverage managers, chefs or executive chefs, there is only one woman captain among the 38,000 seafarers on the SIRC’s Global Labour Market Database (Cruise).
All ship’s doctors are still men; all ship’s nurses are women. Women are unlikely to be found in the deck or galley departments (or other “technical” sectors) and are more likely to work as cabin stewardesses, waitresses, cleaners or utility workers. In terms of status, there is not a huge difference between the sexes except at the most senior level (whereas four per cent of men have senior status, only two per cent of women do), but there are marked differences between the types of job men and women do.
This stereotyping is corroborated by male seafarers’ attitudes to women on board. Most welcome them, but not for their contribution to the professional running of the ship. More often, they are appreciated for apparently improving the “physical scenery” and encouraging more “civilised” behaviour, and some vanity, from the men.
More serious issues, such as equal opportunities and equal treatment, remain an irrelevance to most male seafarers, apart from (usually) the most senior officers, such as the captain or the hotel manager.
Unsurprisingly, heated debates break out as to the “proper” role of women on board. One executive chef claimed that women were slower to understand his instructions and slower to prepare dishes; the safety manager on the same ship claimed that women were weaker and more sensitive. Yet the restaurant director said tasks were assigned equally between men and women, and there was no difference in how they did the job. The doctor on board said women had no more health problems.
Karen (now a senior chef in an onshore restaurant) told of her experience of gender stereotyping. She had worked as a chef in five-star hotels when she tried to get a job on board. “I tried cargo ships, fuel ships – no chance, they didn’t take women. [They said] sorry – go home.” She was finally accepted in the cold galley of a cruise liner after persistent badgering. In some Asian countries, gender bias is worse: in Manila, men can work until they are 40, but women have to give up when they are 29. They are also checked (unlike men) for “moral standards”.
Zhao says women should have an equal chance to do all the jobs on board, and the entire industry needs to change to adapt to the growing numbers of females on board.
Shipowners, managers and crewing agents, national and international regulating bodies, trade unions and seafarers’ missions need to wake up to the fact that the seafaring labour force is no longer homogeneously male.
“It requires the industry to overcome its prejudices and further open up the jobs traditionally held by men; to integrate gender issues into seafarers’ education and training, aboard and ashore; and to extend training to their crewing agents,” she says.
“There is a long way to go before the goal can be reached. This then calls for more committed efforts and resources from the major players in the world maritime industry. In their own interest, they will have to put women’s rights, interests and welfare on their social, economic and political agenda.”
Zhao’s research shows cultural as well as gender differences. Unlike male seafarers, 40 per cent of whom come from Asia, nearly 50 per cent of women come from developed countries, followed by 30 per cent from Eastern Europe and only 13 per cent from Asia, where some countries regard women working on ships as taboo.
The few men who do not welcome women on board can have an effect out of proportion to their number. Some are in positions to discriminate; overall, they are capable of colouring the whole experience of women seafarers, and affecting their quality of life (especially as the ship is both their workplace and their home).
Zhao says: “Despite this, the majority… have positive views on their choice… and few regret their decision. Like the male seafarers, these women decided to endure the hard labour and the long separation from their families for financial and/or career considerations. They also believe their employment on cruise ships is an extraordinary experience… and would encourage other women – although few would extend such encouragement to their children in the future.”
Justice for Ocean Glory 1 crew“I didn’t feel safe on this ship. I know what are proper fire drills but on this one, well I couldn’t describe it.” So said one of these Lithuanian receptionists and stewardesses, among the 237 crew members of the cruise ship Ocean Glory 1 stranded in the UK in mid-2001 until the ITF won a court judgement on their behalf.
The 51-year-old vessel had been detained in the port of Dover for having 35 safety defects, despite its Panamanian safety certificate. It was owned by an Italian company Cruise Invest SRL and chartered to the fugitive Greek operators Cruise Holdings. The ITF found that many of the crew members from 24 countries had paid manning agents up to US$1,500 for their jobs. Then they were being cheated out of their wages by officers fining them for minor misdemeanours. The living and working conditions were atrocious.
To compensate the tour operators, the vessel had to be sold empty of crew. The court awarded a total of US$865,000 in back wages, compensation and severance pay. After the pay-off, the crew were repatriated to begin again to find jobs.
Poor conditions boost ITF campaign
by Jim Given, ITF Cruise Ship Campaign Co-ordinator
The results of a survey carried out by Inspectors in the ITF Cruise Ship Campaign Office in Cape Canaveral, Florida, have shed new light on the conditions seafarers endure on board cruise vessels. The results below are taken directly from surveys of over 2,000 seafarers:
Looking back over the past busy year of ITF activities in the cruise ship campaign, another clear picture has emerged. Seafarers on board vessels covered by union agreements are treated better than those in companies without agreements. Fewer than 2 per cent of all claims handled by the Inspectors were from union vessels.
Carnival and Disney, two non-union companies, accounted for the majority of individual claims from seafarers.
The ITF Cruise Ship Campaign Office collected over US$5.3 million in unpaid wages for crew members working on cruise vessels. This total includes monies recovered via industrial action and legal action.
The different types of claims handled by the Cruise Ship Campaign Office are:
The message is clear to seafarers in non-union cruise ship companies. Contact your national union or the ITF. Together we can make a difference and improve working conditions.
Sector hit by tourism slumpCruise ship operators remain optimistic about the long-term prospects for the industry despite a severe drop in trade following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre.
However, American Classic Voyages, which operated two vessels in Hawaii, and Renaissance Cruises, with eight ships, both collapsed in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.
The troubled market may have also helped prompt the proposed US$6.8 billion merger of two of the big four cruise lines, P&O Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruises. The new company would have more than 40 ships and 75,000 berths.
Cruise shipping has been one of the strongest shipping growth markets in recent years with capacity predicted to double within the next 10 years.
The immediate aftermath of the crisis in the American tourist industry saw bookings plummet by more than 20 per cent, but price cuts by the leading operators have restored occupancy levels although at the cost of lower incomes.
Deliveries of new vessels have been delayed and companies have sought to cut costs by axing staff, both ashore and afloat. A number of vessels are also likely to switch away from the American market to Europe and the Far East.
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