Exploitation on the Deep Blue Sea

by Thomas S. Wolinetz

Last January, I took an amazing twelve-night cruise from New York to the Caribbean.  Recently, I found out that over twenty million people travel on cruise ships each year.[1]  I also learned that the cruise industry generated over thirty-seven billion dollars for the U.S. economy in 2013.[2]  During my voyage on the deep blue sea, I sparked up conversations with some of the cruise line’s wonderful employees.  At first glance, they seemed very happy. Unfortunately, I now know that the cruise lines are exploiting these employees.

Cruise line employees can be paid as low as eight hundred dollars per month, for a seven-day workweek.[3]  After learning that cruise line employees only make eight hundred dollars a month, I could not help but assume that salary is based off of a four- or five-hour workday.  However, I was surprised to learn that employees of a cruise line actually work at least ten hours per day,[4] and sometimes as much as fourteen hours each day.[5] That is about $2.63 per hour, for a ten-hour workday.  Furthermore, cruise line employees have to share a tiny cabin with at least two other employees.[6]  They are also not allowed to socialize with the cruise line guests outside of their work hours.[7]

All of this information leads me to wonder why a cruise line is allowed to pay their employees so little and treat them so poorly.  I also want to know why the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets the minimum wage,[8] does not apply here.  Unfortunately, the answer is simple: a cruise line that registers its ships with countries such as the Bahamas, Panama, Liberia, or Greece[9] will not be required to follow United States minimum wage laws.  It is crazy to think that a cruise ship, that is spending more than half of its travel time docked in a United States port, is not required to follow United States minimum wage laws.  However, the time the ship is docked in a United States port is irrelevant.[10] Cruise ships are required to follow the guidelines set by the International Maritime Organization.[11]  The international guidelines state that a ship is required to follow the same laws and regulations of the country in which that ship is registered.[12]

Unfortunately, this level of exploitation is not illegal. It is even more unfortunate that people continue to take vacations on cruise lines, knowing that the employees are being exploited.  Next time you are sailing on the beautiful ocean, lying out by the pool, and sipping on a margarita, take a moment and look around at all of the hard working men and women that are making that moment possible.  Try to realize that you are having the time of your life, while they are being exploited.  I will leave you with a question to mull, next time you are thinking about booking that once-in-a-lifetime cruise: is it worth it?

[1] Cruise Ship Industry Statistics, STATISTIC BRAIN, http://www.statisticbrain.com/cruise-ship-industry-statistics (last updated Jan. 1, 2014).

[2] Id.

[3] Robert Morello, The Average Salary of Cruise Ship Workers, CHRON.COM, http://work.chron.com/average-salary-cruise-ship-workers-1932.html (last visited Aug. 30, 2014).

[4] Cruise Ship Employment Frequently Asked Questions, NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE, http://www.ncl.com/about/careers/shipboard-employment/faq (last visited August 30, 2014).

[5] Life on board cruise ships, CRUISE SHIP JOBS, http://www.cruiselinesjobs.com/life-on-board/ (last visited August 30, 2014).

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Tom Streissguth, Minimum Wage on a Cruise Ship, CHRON.COM, http://work.chron.com/minimum-wage-cruise-ship-20834.html (last visited Aug. 30, 2014).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] James Walker, What cruise lines don’t want you to know, CNN (Aug. 30, 2014, 12:30 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/13/opinion/walker-cruise-ships/ (last updated Feb. 14, 2013, 3:21 PM).

[12] Id.

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