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Labor, money, sailors, and bars

May 19, 2020

Most cruise ships strike me as little more than floating hotels and casinos. They are staffed largely by hospitality workers. Thousands of whom now are stuck aboard empty ships circling the waters off Florida, unable to leave because of the various quarantine restrictions. And they’re getting little or no pay:

U.S. labor laws do not apply to cruise ship workers as the companies and ships are registered abroad. The International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations, recommends that cruise companies pay crew members at least sick wages during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether the crew are quarantined on land or on a ship. But according to crew, that isn’t always happening. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, MSC Cruises, and Disney Cruise Line crew who are no longer working on board say they are not getting paid. Royal Caribbean crew say they’re receiving $400 per month. Carnival Cruise Line crew say they are being paid 60 days past the end of their contract. Crew on other Carnival Corp. brand ships, like Princess Cruises, say they are not being paid.

The crew on cargo ships are facing some of the same difficulties in getting back ashore. But those ships still are carrying goods, the crew essentially forced into extra long stints. While they suffer being trapped aboard, like the crew on the cruise ships above, they at least are working and getting paid. Even paid a bonus:

So the 27-year-old former Royal Navy warfare officer has been stuck onboard as the ship criss-crosses the ocean from Qatar to Turkey and France and back. The 34-man crew, from the Philippines, India, Russia and Ireland, have had their pay increased by 50%, but they just want to go home. “We are still loading, sailing and discharging our cargo. But in the back of our minds, we are starting to realise: we are trapped. People are essentially prisoners,” he said. “There is no way to get off the ship.”

They may be going stir-crazy. At least, when they do get back home, they will have a nice chunk of change. Part of that difference, of course, is that those ships still are productive. Part is the fact that the crew in the latter case are actual mariners, who know and operate the ship. I would bet the crew on the cruise ships with mariner certifications are getting full pay. Those ships may not be productive, but they still are assets. A bartender on an empty cruise ship is just another obligation. A diesel engineer or deck officer is quite a different matter.

And I have to wonder, if it crosses the mind of any ship line managers that, on land and sea, pay issues and working conditions are among the most common causes of mutiny, often seen as justified? In 1931, the British Royal Navy decided to cut sailors’ pay, leading to the Invergordon mutiny. Which had a darkly comic aftermath:

Paranoia now turned into dark farce. Naval intelligence sent agents to the ports, some posing as radical sailors, looking for agitators. Meanwhile the Communist Party, shocked that they’d missed the mutiny, sent its men to the Portsmouth bars also hunting for radical sailors. There were no radical sailors.

No radical sailors. But the barkeeps were glad for the patronage. I bet more than one sailor got both a communist and an intelligence officer to spot a drink in the same night, not necessarily knowing which was which. And certainly not caring.

Texas bars re-open Friday.

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