"Our company stands behind the pay, benefits and working conditions we offer our employees. As a business, Celebrity Cruises creates thousands of global job opportunities each year, giving employees on shore and on our ships the chance to significantly increase their earnings potential and provide financial support to their families." (11:30 a.m. BST) -- Celebrity Cruises is bracing itself for what it says will be a “biased and unbalanced” programme about labour and wage issues, which is due to air on Channel 4 at 8 p.m. tonight.
The programme, called “Dispatches: The Truth Below Deck,” sends an undercover reporter posing as a waiter onboard the 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse to look at what conditions are like for the crew.
Focusing on issues of long hours and low pay for cruise ship workers, “Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to investigate the reality of life below deck for the multi-national workforce who toil behind the scenes of glamorous ocean going holidays,” we are told in a pre-publicity statement.
“The cruise industry generates billions of pounds in revenue each year and working on a ship provides many people from around the world a much needed source of income,” the statement continues. “However Dispatches reporter Tazeen Ahmad - travelling as a passenger on a European cruise - and an undercover reporter working as an assistant waiter discover working conditions below the legal minimum in the U.K.”
Prior to airing, the programme has already sparked debate on the Cruise Critic forums, with many members agreed that it will be biased against the cruise industry.
Simon Stingray wrote: "I look forward to this programme but strongly suspect that it will be another attempt at unfairly slating the cruise industry."
And cb at sea wrote: "Working on a cruise ship is WORK...it's not a vacation by any stretch of imagination. What they get paid....none of our business. If they don't like the contract, they won't work for the company. I'm never sure why folks are so interested in how much the staff/crew is paid, or how many cabins they have to clean, or what their hours are....it's really no one's business but theirs! "
The issue of long hours and low pay is not a new one in the cruise industry, with many workers earning a basic salary of as little as 75p an hour. P&O Cruises was subject to a peaceful but unscheduled crew walkout by 150 Indian waiters last year, who were protesting against low pay and the company's tipping policy. In April this year, P&O Cruises announced it would be phasing out cash tips for electronic payments, in line with the majority of cruise companies.
As an example of what crewmembers earn, a junior waiter on a ship sailing out of Southampton now earns a basic salary of £250 a month with P&O Cruises, for shifts lasting a minimum of 11 hours, seven days a week, with a possible £150 extra in bonuses. Bonuses are now dependent upon a score of 92 percent on passenger satisfaction questionnaires. Under the old system, the level of tips was not directly related to the scores on the end-of-cruise customer questionnaires; it just depended on whether the guests tipped or not.
P&O described the protest as unofficial and inappropriate and decided not to renew the waiters' contracts onboard Arcadia.
On Celebrity's part, the line has written a statement to members of the media and travel agencies asking for support. “Sadly, we are anticipating a biased and unbalanced programme about the labour and wage issues in the cruise industry – with Celebrity Eclipse as the show's primary example,” writes Jo Rzymowska, associate vice-president and general manager for Celebrity.
“We are committed to our employees, both shipboard and shoreside. Moreover, as a business, we operate totally within the letter of the law when it comes to employment practices.
“Celebrity Cruises has taken immediate steps to investigate all of the allegations made by the undercover reporter to determine their basis and validity. If we discover that anyone within the company, or at the hiring and placement agencies we work with, violated our procedures and requirements, we will take swift and corrective actions.”
--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor