(10.35 a.m. EDT) -- A shadow has been cast over P&O Cruises' Grand Event tomorrow by the revelation in The Guardian today that 150 Indian waiters who worked on Arcadia have been sacked for going on strike.
According to the report, the waiters staged a peaceful but unscheduled walkout last year, in protest against low pay and the company's tipping policy. The strike occurred when the ship was on its much-publicised 72-day no-fly cruise from Southampton to Alaska.
Arcadia was docked in Seattle when the walkout took place. The waiters gathered on the dockside for 90 minutes, causing dinner and bar service to be disrupted. The captain contacted P&O Cruises' head office and, according to the report, assured the crew there would be no repercussions. The waiters worked out the remainder of their contracts, returning home to India at the end.
But their contracts were not renewed. The workers were told by letter that they would no longer be employed by P&O Cruises –- and nor would the Mumbai recruitment agency Fleet Maritime Service International, which provides 9,000 crew for more than 30 cruise ships, offer them any further work.
A statement from P&O Cruises said: "The withdrawal of labour which was undertaken by some of Arcadia's restaurant team on May 10 2011 was without warning, "unofficial" and greatly impacted our customers.
“At the time the Captain committed that no disciplinary action would be taken. As a result all crew were allowed to complete their current contracts. However, given the serious and inappropriate nature of the staff's actions P&O Cruises has decided not to offer any further contracts to the crew concerned.”
Passengers who were onboard at the time and posting comments on the P&O Cruises forum didn't seem unduly concerned. Blogger mvarcadia.com said: “ALL the waiting staff had left the ship and had congregated on the dockside. Various members of the management went out to talk to them, culminating in Captain Kevin Oprey addressing them.
“After about 90 minutes, the waiters trooped back in and the Captain announced that dinner would be on a Freedom and free seating basis this evening…
“…Because of the late departure (10pm) from Seattle, many people were still ashore or had eaten in the Belvedere, so the atmosphere in the Meridian was good with guests arriving when they want and sitting where they want.”
Because Arcadia, like the rest of the P&O Cruises' fleet, is registered in Bermuda, workers onboard are not protected by the employment laws that are familiar to the Brits who travel on the company's ships. But P&O itself is unlikely to suffer any shortage of workers; earlier this year, Carnival UK's chief executive David Dingle claimed people were ‘queuing in the street' to get into the Fleet Maritime Service offices in Mumbai.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor