BAHAMAS: Cruising a Sea of Labor Complaints
The International Ship Registry of the Bahamas provided a
flag to the notorious single-hulled oil tanker Prestige.
In spite of this individual embarrassment, international regulators
consider the registry one of the better flags of convenience.
It is also the world's largest cruise ship registry, which has
attracted negative attention from international labor organizations.
According to these groups, cruise lines choose to fly the Bahamian
flag in order to avoid the more stringent labor regulations
that would apply if they were registered in the United States
or other countries where the cruise industry is owned and based.
Representatives of the Bahamian registry state that the Bahamian
Merchant Marine Shipping Act, which includes provisions on labor,
is based upon shipping law in the United Kingdom and offers
substantial legal protection for maritime workers. However,
the registry does not require ships flying the Bahamian flag
to employ Bahamians and admits that this enables ship owners
to hire less expensive labor, from countries such as the Philippines,
India and Indonesia. (More than 40 percent of the workers on
board Bahamian ships are from the Philippines.) Labor law protections
may also be weaker in these countries than in the Bahamas or
the ship owner's home country.
Major cruise lines flagged in the Bahamas include Carnival,
Disney, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines. According
to the International Transport Workers' Federation, more than
a third of the workers on board cruise ships work 10- to 12-hour
days, seven days a week. And on board Disney and Carnival cruise
ships, for example, where there are no union agreements, employees
receive no compensation for the large amount of overtime labor.
These hours are considered "normal working hours." In addition,
recruiting agents employed by some cruise ship companies have
been alleged to charge workers between US$1,500 and US$2,000
to find them a job, a practice that is strictly forbidden by
international maritime law. The end result can be that many
workers spend their first few months working off an enormous
debt -- what union officials consider a state of indentured
servitude. Officials from the cruise industry generally deny
these charges. According to one Carnival representative, working
on board a cruise ship offers employees "a positive and comfortable
working environment and an opportunity to earn tremendously
higher wages than they can in their homeland."
PERKS OF THE REGISTRY
Ship owners seeking the Bahamian flag do not have to be based
in the Bahamas, and offshore profits are not taxed. They are
not required to disclose any details of their company when they
register and are guaranteed that these details cannot be accessed
through public records.
WHAT THE REGULATORS SAY
The Bahamian flag has been given "good" performance ratings
by analysts from the University of Cardiff's Seafarers International
Research Center for its operations and fleet maintenance. In
addition, Bahamian ships have low detention ratings in the United
States and Europe. However, the agencies giving these ratings
as well as major international labor organizations say the registry
does a poor job of protecting employee rights and welfare.
A MEMBER OF THE FLEET: THE DESTINY
Destiny is one of eight Bahamian-flagged ships operated
by Carnival Cruise Lines. The ship can accommodate 2,600 passengers.
It takes 1,050 crew members to cater to these guests during
their weeklong tours of the Caribbean. According to an article
published in the Miami Herald in February 2000, a cook
on board the Destiny was required to work a 14-hour day, seven
days a week, for the duration of her contract, approximately
nine months. For this, the cook earned US$150 per week, or US$1.50
per hour for a 98-hour week. The International Labor Organization's
minimum wage and standard is US$465 per week for 10-hour days,
seven days a week. Another article in 2002, in the Los Angeles
Times, describes the schedules and pay for janitors, bartenders
and other low-level hotel-type staff as similar.
When asked if these hours and wages are still accurate, a
Carnival representative stated that the company does not disclose
salaries for either shore-side or shipboard employees. The representative
also said, "Cruise lines offer significantly higher wages than
employees can typically earn in their home country and that
is why there are thousands of people lining up for jobs within
the cruise industry."
According to statistics gathered by the International Transport
Workers' Federation, however, the average length of time that
employees remain on board a cruise ship has dropped from an
average of five years in 1970 to nine months in 2000. This suggests
that there is high employee turnover and that few employees
are choosing to stay beyond their initial contract.
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