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Working Rights on Cruise Ships

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 23 Mar 2021 | comments*Discuss
Working Rights On Cruise Ships

Cruise holidays are doing well. People are increasingly attracted to the idea of staying on a ship that visits a number of countries and offers a wide range of on-board facilities.

The thought of joining the crew of such a ship may also seem desirable. But the reality can be different to any romantic ideas.

This doesn't mean that joining a cruise ship's staff is necessarily a bad move. But it's important to first make a series of checks about issues such as the employment contract and conditions of service.

Flags of Convenience

Many cruise ships fly flags of convenience. In other words, the country that's registered the ship is often the Bahamas, Liberia or Panama.

These countries provide tax breaks for cruise ship owners. They also have few employment rights.

Fees and Bonds

Just because a cruise ship flies a flag of convenience, the working conditions on board are not automatically poor. But seafarers should exercise caution.

Some ships, for example, take new members of crew from a crewing agent. The agent charges a fee to the seafarer. This may represent around four months' pay. Under the International Maritime Labour Convention, agents who charge such fees are committing an illegal act. But agents continue to ask for money to place people on board a ship.

Some employers also ask for a security bond from each crew member. The employers say the bond helps prevent desertion. The bond, however, can be the equivalent of a further two months' pay.

Agency fees and employment bonds are more common in the ports of less developed countries than the UK. Even so, it pays to be aware of these practices.

Basic Terms and Conditions

12-hour days and a seven-day week are not unusual on a cruise ship. And benefits such as pensions schemes and healthcare are unlikely.

Domestic staff may have to rely heavily on tips for their income. Other crew may receive set salaries. These salaries reflect international pay rates and don't compare well to mainland UK.

Contracts are rarely long-term. They may last for just eight months.

Accommodation is cramped. Most crew share a cabin. Privacy is at a premium, especially with some cruise ships carrying around 3,000 passengers and 1,000 crew.


The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) liaises with cruise ship employers around the world. Together with affiliated trade unions, it arranges acceptable terms and conditions for crew members.

The agreements vary. Anyone thinking of signing a contract with a cruise ship should check the paperwork carefully. An ITF arrangement, however, has some basic working rights.

ITF Working Standards

With the ITF, normal hours of duty should be eight per day, Monday to Friday. Any work done in addition to these hours is overtime.

In a 24-hour period, each crew member should have at least 10 hours rest. Over seven days, the total rest period should be at least 77 hours.

Crew members should also receive paid leave. The ITF minimum is three days per month. The union tries, however, to negotiate up to seven days a month.

Cruise ships are like any other working environment: injuries may occur. With an ITF agreement, a member of crew who suffers an injury on board a ship should have sick pay and compensation.

Medical treatment and hospitalisation abroad are usually not free of charge. The cruise ship company should meet the costs if it discharges a member of crew because of illness or injury.

If a female crew member becomes pregnant, she should be entitled to 14 weeks' minimum maternity pay.

When a contract ends, the cruise ship owner should pay the cost of sending a crew member home.

The ITF asks employers to include two other rights in working agreements. The first is the right for each crew member to join a trade union. The second is the right to work and live on board without suffering bullying or harassment of any kind.

Resolving Problems

If an ITF agreement is in place, a crew member should expect the employer to abide by it. If a problem arises, the affected person should contact an ITF inspector or a representative of a local maritime trade union. Many ports have inspectors or representatives on hand.

Before embarking as a member of the crew on a cruise ship, a seafarer should check to see if a union agreement is in place. The ITF has details of all its agreements and the ships they cover.

Other Organisations

Groups such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) are also involved with cruise ship working rights. The ITF represents crew members at meetings of both groups.

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Why do maresk ship's chargeyou for your holiaday request form's?
Maggie - 23-Mar-21 @ 8:05 PM
i was discharge frm the vessel failing to pss the test but i did not cause damage any ship property...the superiors say i can go bk on the ship depend on the agend.
lillian - 10-Mar-16 @ 8:59 PM
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