Celebrity Condemns "Unbalanced" Undercover Cruise Programme

October 3, 2012

(10:30 a.m. EDT) -- Celebrity Cruises has condemned the Channel 4 programme Cruises Undercover as “negative” and “unbalanced”.
The Dispatches programme, which aired on Monday night, purported to shine a light on the working practices of the cruise industry, which showed some staff earning as little as $2 per hour.
The half-hour programme dispatched an undercover reporter to work as a waiter onboard the 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse for five weeks.

As well as the low wages, Paul Miles also revealed that many crew work eight months in a row without a single day off; that some are required to pay an agency fee to join the ship, as well as their air fare; and some even clean other crew's cabins to earn extra money.
He also did not receive his contract until a few days into the cruise, which showed his earnings would be much less than expected.

The vast majority of Cruise Critic members have come out in favour of Celebrity, dismissing the half-hour documentary as “biased”, “unfair” and “untrue”.

A blog we posted following transmission "Undercover, under-researched and underwhelming", has prompted almost 100 comments at time of going to press -- one of the highest number of responses we have had.

Posters on the blog weighed in with comments, such as these:

Angus wrote: The programme should have used examples from several cruise lines, and asked representatives from all the lines used to give their side of the story.”

Laura writes: “I was very disappointed with the programme last night and I think it's such a shame that people with no experience of cruising or knowledge are making assumptions based on the programme. I find it outrageous that people on social networks are calling the crew slaves. Slavery is definitely not what goes on onboard those ships. Channel 4 have made a VERY biased programme and painted an unfair and untrue picture of the cruise industry.”

The feeling is the same on the Cruise Critic forums, with the majority of members feeling that the programme did not look at the whole picture of life below decks.

Here is a sample:

Jenna 109 posted:
“None of these staff would have earned these wages in their own country. A typical high wage for a builder, living on site in a tin hut has been risen to 300 baht (for the lucky ones -- many earn only 100 baht a day). This is about £2 or $3. Perhaps people could look at the places many cruise staff come from to see poor living and working conditions. That is why they queue to get a job on the ships”

fishin' musician said:

“I've had room stewards who've put their kids through college to become doctors, lawyers and dentists. Without the cruise industry their kids would not have this opportunity. Yes, it is a huge sacrifice to be away from your family for 6-8 months, and you can say all you want about low wages, but their families have a high standard of living relative to the average in their communities.”

However, the mood is very different on social media and on Celebrity's U.K. Facebook site with many people condemning the line.

Stephen Dixon wrote: "Hang your heads in shame RCI!!!!! Your image is now tarnished and no amount of spin can clear it!"

A statement issued by Celebrity reads: “In our opinion, the concerns raised by the reporter relating to his short time working onboard are not representative of more than 13,000 satisfied shipboard employees who deliver memorable holidays for our guests.
“We do however acknowledge that working onboard a ship can be challenging and is not for everyone.

"Celebrity Cruises operates in full accordance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendations for minimum wages for seafarers. All of our shipboard employees are provided with free room and board during service onboard, mandatory rest hours, medical coverage, sick pay, and disability pay, compensation in the event of death in service, a retirement plan and many other benefits.

“All onboard standards such as rest periods, reasonable pay, benefits to employees and conditions for mandatory pay for overtime work are agreed with industry bodies including seafarers' trade unions.”

Celebrity also addresses the question of agency fees: “Celebrity Cruises prohibits hiring partners and recruiting agencies from collecting fees from employees seeking employment onboard our vessels, except for preapproved costs, which are standard in the industry. Any additional costs charged by the hiring partners are not sanctioned by Celebrity Cruises.

Should we discover that anyone within the company, or at the hiring and placement agencies we work with, has violated our procedures and requirements, we will take swift and corrective actions.”
--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor