Unethical Working Conditions Plague Cruise-Ship Crews

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

Millions of people every year board cruise ships for luxury vacations to tropical locations like the Caribbean or the Bahamas, yet most are unaware of the appalling working conditions that crew members experience.

A $37 billion business in the United States alone, the cruise industry is booming, hosting over 20 million passengers annually. Since 1980, the industry has grown an average of 7.4 percent each year. However, the crew members, who work for extremely low wages, see very little of that profit.

Working 12-hour days for every day of a six- to ten-month contract, a cruise-ship crew member might make $550 a month. They make an average of $18 a day, or $1.50 per hour in U.S. currency. Some make as low as $1.20 an hour. They are allowed no days off. After the contract ends, they sometimes get two months off before signing a new contract.

Ships’ bartenders, maids and servers often come from poor countries that are not industrialized. In these countries, the exchange rate of the U.S. dollar is high. Many will go work on cruise ships to earn money to send home to their families—that they haven’t seen or talked to in months. Crew members sleep in cramped quarters and eat low-quality food.

Because of the high exchange rate, cruise-ship jobs are in high demand in poor countries. Crew members fear being replaced if they are sick or if their service is not up to par. This means an impoverished life for them and their family.

There are documented accounts of these poor working conditions on several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Disney. In 2014, eleven crew members working on a Brazilian cruise ship were “rescued” by police after experiencing “slave-like conditions.”

Cruise-ship companies can do this because the ships are not registered in the U.S., so crew members are not protected by U.S. labor laws. However, several of these companies are still headquartered in the U.S.

An April 2014 report done by Leeds Metropolitan University determined that the cruise industry is not doing enough to meet its corporate social responsibilities.

Coverage of this issue is practically non-existent in the mainstream media, likely due to the significant profit and growth in the industry. Additionally, ABC News’ affiliation with Disney may prevent it from reporting on the unsafe working conditions on cruise ships. It’s crucial for people to know that the cruise industry is getting bigger and bigger at the expense of the crew members who keep the ships operating smoothly.


Mark Johanson, “Cruise Labor Under Spotlight After Brazil Accuses Ship Of Subjecting Staff To ‘Slave-Like Conditions.’” International Business Times. April 8, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/cruise-labor-under-spotlight-after-brazil-accuses-ship-subjecting-staff-slave-conditions-1568709.

“Research Highlights Limited Cruise Industry’s Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting,” Leeds Metropolitan University, April 3, 2014, http://www.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/news/research-highlights-cruise-industry-s-failure-to-take-sustainability-seriously.htm.

Student Researcher: Brad Kroner (Frostburg State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Duncan (Frostburg State University)