P&O Cruises' Crewmembers Could Lose Tips if 'Targets' Aren't Met

April 30, 2012
(12:45 p.m. EDT) -- P&O Cruises introduced auto-gratuities across its fleet this month, meaning that £3.10 per person, per day in tips is automatically added onto each passenger's onboard account.

Collecting gratuities automatically as the default tipping scheme -- rather than the traditional 'cash in envelope' method -- is nothing unusual in the cruise industry. But today, a report in The Guardian newspaper has revealed a new twist in the tale.

Individual crewmembers, the report says, will only get their bonus of tips if the passenger satisfaction questionnaires reach a certain score. Cabin stewards have to score 92 percent on 'attitude,' according to the Guardian, while other crewmembers (whose rank is not disclosed in the story) must reach 96 percent.

Crewmembers at the bottom of the scale earn as little as 75p an hour, or £250 per month as a basic wage, according to documents seen by the Guardian. They rely on tips to top it up; a bonus can be as much as £150 a month -- again a Guardian figure -- but can be withheld if targets are not met. 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.

Carnival UK Chief Executive Officer David Dingle, who heads up P&O, told the Guardian the move was intended to 'make crew more responsive' and offer protection against a tipping pool that's shrinking amid the economic downturn. Dingle said that crew were 'much happier' and the new arrangement was a win-win for passengers, staff and P&O. He said many crew earned more than £1,000 a month, but tenuous times meant that, 'sadly, our customers were reluctant to pay the recommended level of tipping.'

Crewmembers could, in theory, win under this new system. If passengers don't tip enough, which, according to the Guardian report, is an increasing trend, the crew should still get their bonuses if they meet the targets -- although it seems clear from a comment from P&O Cruises that it doesn't expect to have to find the money for tips from elsewhere. A spokeswoman told Cruise Critic: 'Our scheme is designed to share fairly the tips that customers leave our staff and also to ensure that there is consistency of earnings for our people. Clearly, if there were a trend in which customers ceased tipping our staff then we would have to design a different remuneration scheme.'

P&O Cruises, like other cruise lines, can get away with such a low basic wage as its ships are flagged in Bermuda, so it's not governed by any British requirement to pay a minimum wage. Crewmembers do not have to pay for food and accommodation onboard, either. 'Yes, the minimum wage is more than we pay, but this is a global industry, our businesses have to remain competitive,' Dingle told the Guardian. "You've got staff from eastern Europe in restaurants in Britain – why? Because it's great money.'

Like other lines that collect gratuities automatically, P&O allows passengers to remove the tips at the reception and dole out cash (or nothing) instead. Those who want to reward exceptional service can still pay tips on top of the auto-gratuity in cash direct to the crewmembers of their choice if they wish, the line said.

--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor