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Even under the best of circumstances, I had no idea cruise staff had it so bad.

By now, the story of the Carnival cruise ship, Triumph, and its long-winded disaster, has become the latest tragedy for cable news to masturbate to. They’re looking for stories to exploit, and not focusing on any of the real issues that made this disaster possible, or what the long-term consequences of this disaster could be. It wouldn’t surprise me if, months from now, we’re still hearing stories about people being sick in some way from being stuck on a floating petri dish—particularly small children and the elderly. The focus of the story has been those unfortunate passengers who had the luxuries of their luxury vacation stripped away.

But what about what the crew had to contend with? Especially those who had to directly deal with the passengers?

I’ve spent the bulk of my adult life working in customer service, usually related in some way to the hospitality industry, so I’d like to think I can in some way appreciate what people on those branches of the cruise industry are dealing with—except with a captive audience. The thought of doing that work and not able to leave at the end of my shift sounds horrifying. Turns out, I was right to be horrified.

A recent Salon article1 that interviewed cruise industry expert Ross A. Klein, author of Paradise Lost at Sea: Rethinking Cruise Vacations and Cruise Ship Squeeze: The New Pirates of the Seven Seas, gives an overview of what working conditions are really like aboard cruise ships. 11-14 hour workdays are pretty common, workers are crammed into tiny rooms with no windows, and limits on passenger interaction means their encounters with daylight are pretty scarce. And, like all jobs where maltreatment is the norm, “[sexual] assault rates outpace those on U.S. shores.” It’s also worth noting that most gratuities wind up in management’s pockets. Due to the fact that most cruise work is done in international waters, the average pay rate hovers around $600 a month, working roughly 77 hours a week, a breakdown of about $2 an hour. Suddenly working at a fast food place down the street doesn’t seem so bad.

So, the staff have to deal with those conditions, and then after the fire aboard the Triumph, they’re duties now include direct handling of human waste. Suddenly every complaint I’ve ever had about every job I’ve ever held seems to pale by comparison—oh wait, except for when I worked at that one resort where my station was under a bathroom, whose plumbing quirks would occasionally result in urine raining down on my cutting board after someone used the shower. So Triumph staff—I feel your disgust as well as your pain.

In addition to treating their employees like garbage, Carnival is also screwing over the American taxpayer2. By declaring Panama as their home base, they’ve only paid a 1.1% tax rate on their 2011 profit of $11.3 billion profit. A small price to pay for the US Coast Guard keeping the seas safe for them, not to mention the money our government has spent building roads, bridges, and docks for Carnival’s use.

I don’t usually get into making predictions, but this is the sort of event that’s likely to clog the judiciary with lawsuits for years to come. For the sake of the employees of the cruise industry, I really hope to see some real progress come of it.

 

  1. Salon Josh Eidelson: “Cruise from hell”: Don’t pity Carnival’s passengers! http://www.salon.com/2013/02/15/cruise_from_hell_dont_pity_carnivals_passengers/
  2. The New York Times David Leonhardt: the Paradox of Corporate Taxes. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/02/business/economy/02leonhardt.html?_r=1&
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