You live in a big city, or a little town. It might possibly be your only opportunity for work. Or, you've just finished your studies, and have a summer break. Or you've already worked in a restaurant or hotel, and want to gain new experiences. Or, you're bored! And then you see that ad: Adventure! Romance! Glamour! Get paid to travel the world! Earn big bucks!
Yes! Yes! Yes! Where do I sign?
But, do you really know what you've gotten yourself into? Before rushing too far into the dream, we at the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) would like to offer you a somewhat different view of the life seen through cruise ship port holes. Unfortunately, it's not as flashy as the one put forth in the hiring ads or manuals, but considering your status on board a cruise ship, being aware of the reality experienced by so many other seekers of adventure who have gone before you, just may save you, not only money, but future hardships.
The nature of "cruising" has of course changed much since its inception, having gone from mode - albeit luxurious - of transport, to entertainment, to its current status of tourism. Cruising is currently the largest growing tourist industry in the world, with the four and one half million passengers of 1993 expected to nearly double to eight million by the year 2000, according to industry experts.
This enormous growth creates new and expanding job opportunities, not only for people interested in occupations in the tourism services industries, but also for those simply wishing to get away. If you are already a seafarer, or someone looking to establish a career in the tourism services industry, or an adventure seeker above all else, be advised that taking employment on a cruise ship may very well be an adventure, although probably not what you had in mind.
First things first: You are a seafarer at sea. And with few exceptions, you are probably also on a Flag of convenience (Foc) ship. Put the two together, and you will find yourself in an environment unlike any you've probably ever known.
Life at sea is not anything to be taken lightly. For the obvious reasons of its nature, it needs be governed by specific laws: maritime laws. This may entail such things as a virtual military hierarchy of authority, that must be strictly respected. In crew member contracts, for instance, it is not unusual to find language such as: The captain is the highest authority onboard.
There are also rules and regulations dictating health and safety, not only for passengers, but also for the crew. Previously - in those good ol' days - national governments established maritime regulations, to ensure high standards for things such as ship seaworthiness, and health and safety, which obviously necessitate decent working conditions and wages for crew members.
Today, however, there is chaos on the high seas, in the form of runaway Foc shipping registries. This means that a ship is owned in one country, and registered in another country. This is usually done for financial reasons, and it is a double-sided dirty deal, because the country which opens its registry does so as a way of earning money, and thus strives to be the most attractive registry for ship owners. Attractive to a ship owners, are such things that reduce operating costs (thus increasing profits, and reducing safety!), like inferior crew working conditions and wages, and lax health and safety standards.
It is a system of convenience above all else, hence the term Flags of convenience. Ships, such as cruise ships, flying flags from countries like Panama, Liberia, and the Bahamas, to name a few, are Foc ships.
This is an important thing for you to know, for you will have to consider the consequences of this system for you: the ship is owned in one country, and registered in another, and you, as a crew member probably come from yet another country.
Where, for instance, or to whom, can you turn in the event of personal - or collective crew - difficulty? What are your specific rights, and or obligations? In one cruise ship company, the contract states:
The Employee shall be initially employed on board the ship stated in the Employment Agreement and shall be subject to the rights and obligations as are set forth in the Maritime Laws of the Bahamas. Employer and Employee agree that any dispute or claims arising under this Agreement shall be governed and adjudicated pursuant to laws of the Bahamas, regardless of any other legal remedies with may be available.
Company regulation further states that you are yourself responsible for knowing all maritime rules and regulations; and that it is your own personal duty to acquaint yourself with all current ship board regulations. This is, of course, a very important, and no less imposing responsibility, especially for someone who has never been at sea before.
In the past, when ships were owned and registered in the same country, they were also crewed by people from that country, who could turn to their own national trade unions, not only for the establishment and assurance of decent working conditions and wages, but in the event of difficulties. On international Foc vessels, however, seafarers no longer have this basic right. Hence onboard regulation is arbitrarily set by company policy, whose main goal is profit making.
This is where the ITF comes in, because it doesn't necessarily have to be this way. And you can help to make the difference. You are not without rights - or help!
The International Transport Workers' Federation - ITF - is a worldwide federation of transport workers' trade unions. Founded in 1896, it is organized in eight industrial sections: seafaring, docks, railways, road transport, civil aviation, inland navigation, fisheries and tourism services. It represents the interests of transport workers at world level and fights against the abuses of the Foc system.
The ITF is unique in the world of trade unions in that it acts directly on behalf of individual seafarers who work on board flag of convenience vessels. (this is, of course, due to the fact, that owing to the structure of Foc shipping, its workers cannot organize in national unions.)
And for nearly fifty years now, the ITF has been waging a Flag of Convenience Campaign, which aims to eliminate the Foc system and help seafarers who suffer from its unjust and exploitative practices.
You may or may not be familiar with the ITF, but ship owners the world over are, and so much so, that Foc contracts sometimes even include a clause prohibiting seafarers from taking contact with the ITF. That should tell you the strength and importance of our organization.
Information is power. It is just as important to know your rights, as it is to know your obligations. Even more so, it is important to know where to turn to gain information and assistance. You're not only a little person on a big ship in a bigger ocean. Part of the ITF Foc Campaign is a network of Inspectors in ports the world over, who are already at work every day helping seafarers on Foc ships. These dedicated individuals not only inform seafarers of their rights, but also intervene on their behalf in cases of ship owner neglect, where crews sometimes are left to work without pay, or forced to work in substandard conditions.
The ITF Inspectors co-ordinate the active solidarity of ITF maritime workers whose dockworker and seafarer membership provide practical industrial solidarity action where local conditions permit - in many ports, for example, ITF maritime unions will support a crew strike with a sympathy blockade or boycott. This support action often makes the difference between victory and defeat.
It is fair to say that most ITF action occurs against cargo ships and there are practical difficulties with holding a strikebound cruise ship in many ports - but the ITF is now committed to extending the successful Foc campaign to the cruise sector. This is because you - cruise ship workers - have demanded we take up your plight.
Because this is a new campaign and because solidarity support needs to be carefully organised in ports where we know we can win, it is very, very important that any cruise ship action be taken in close co-ordination with the ITF. In some ports we may recommend no action, in others we may want time to prepare. Before you do anything, talk to the ITF, or an ITF Cruise Campaign co-ordinator.
The ITF would, of course, like to see the demise of the Foc open registry system. Until that time however, it strives as an organization, to protect the rights, and look after the interests of those individuals who either need to, or choose to work onboard Foc vessels. It pursues an agenda to assure decent working conditions and wages, as a key aspect of maritime health and safety.
As you may know, in cruise ship reality, promises of high earnings turn out to be statements of wages dependent on tips alone. Paradise pales in the face of employees who complain of over work and abuse. And the idea of modern tourist travel turns ugly in light of the seemingly institutional racism onboard a number of cruise ships, where more preferable accommodations, wages and working conditions are given to white Europeans and Americans, while others (mostly Asians) are tucked under deck, not to be seen by the public; doing "dirty work" and being paid far less than their deck-side colleagues.
The ITF is committed to changing this! We seek a cruise industry regulated by negotiated trade union agreements, based on a respect for basic human rights and a fair wage. In the first instance we are approaching the companies that operate cruise ships and asking them to conclude ITF acceptable agreements. If they refuse, their ships will be targeted for action by ITF port unions and we will also be mounting a consumer boycott campaign against unorganised vessels.
This campaign is the direct result of the appeals made to the ITF by exploited seafarers on cruise ships. In order to win, we need your continuing active support.
Talk to your brothers and sisters on board, get organised and act democratically and collectively but above all else, contact the ITF and co-ordinate with us. Together we cannot lose.
For more information, telephone the ITF on +44 171 403 2733 or email firstname.lastname@example.org