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Cruise ships

Approximately 200,000 people currently work on cruise ships around the world. Many are drawn to the industry, as it is a way to visit distant places, meet new people, and earn money at the same time. But the job isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. 

Why is working on a cruise ship stressful?

On many cruise ships the crew totals over 1,000 people and there are generally three or even four passengers to every crew member. It’s a lot of bodies – from many different backgrounds – in a relatively small space. ITF surveys show that cruise ship crews are working harder, for longer hours than ever before. But, whatever the pressures, if you are in contact with the passengers, you have to keep smiling at all costs.

Relaxation can also be a problem. Most cruise ship workers are at sea for many months at a stretch, and only get a few hours on shore when the ship is in port. Sharing a small cabin over a long period can create good friendships but it can also be a source of great stress, especially if the ship’s managers turn a blind eye to sexual predators among the crew or passengers. Safe procedures for reporting any sexual intimidation should exist on board. So do use them, or contact a trade union representative. Cruise companies are increasingly sensitive to reports of harassment.

What are my rights?

You have the right to decent working terms and conditions. The ITF and its affiliated trade unions around the world reach agreements with cruise ship employers that lay down standards for working terms and conditions on board. The details vary between the agreements, but here are some typical standards:

  • You are entitled to work and live in an environment free from harassment and bullying, whether sexually, racially or otherwise motivated
  • Normal hours of duty are eight hours a day, Monday to Friday
  • Overtime should be paid
  • You should have 10 hours rest in any 24-hour period; and 77 hours in any seven-day period
  • You should get seven days’ (minimum three) paid leave for each month of service
  • At the end of your service, the company should cover the costs for you to get home
  • If you are discharged owing to sickness or injury, you are entitled to medical treatment (including hospitalisation) at the company’s expense for as long as necessary
  • If you are injured as a result of an accident on board you are entitled to sick pay and compensation
  • If you get pregnant, you are entitled to at least 14 weeks’ maternity pay
  • You have the right to join a trade union

There are many more details in the actual union agreements. To find out more about the minimum terms and conditions that cruise ship crews should have, please see the model ITF agreements using the links on the right of this page.

If your working rights are being violated – say, you haven’t received your wages or have been unfairly dismissed – you can contact an ITF inspector or local maritime trade union, using the link on the right of this page.

To find out if there is a union agreement covering the cruise ship on which you work or hope to join, you can contact the ITF.  

What is the ITF doing?

The industry is certainly growing. Ships with 4,500 passengers and 2,000 crew are being planned. The ITF believes this expansion means that employers should be emphasising skills training and professionalism. That would benefit all – crew, passengers and companies – far better than squeezing every last drop out of a resentful workforce, and then having to keep on re-recruiting.

Unfortunately, there are crewing agents and websites around the world who ask for money to get you a job on board or for the necessary training. This undermines quality and safety at sea, and it is illegal under the international Maritime Labour Convention, which you can view using the link on the right of this page. The ITF is warning anyone looking for work: do not pay in advance – you risk losing the money anyway.

As part of its work, the ITF represents seafarers on bodies such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) which set these global standards for employment conditions, recruitment, training and safety at sea.