In what has already been a bad year for publicity for cruise lines, P&O Cruises got some unwelcome headlines when the Guardian and the Telegraph broke the news that some of the junior crew like the stewards and waiters working on the company’s ships were being paid 75 pence an hour.
It was also reported that the same crew faced having extra tips from passengers withheld unless they hit performance targets. At the bottom end of the scale, a junior waiter on a ship sailing out of Southampton now earns a basic salary of £250 a month, for shifts lasting a minimum of 11 hours, seven days a week, with a possible £150 extra in bonuses. According to documents seen by the two papers, this is "a significantly increased basic salary". It is unfair to single out P&O Cruises in what is a practice performed by ALL of the major cruise companies, however on the more popular cruise websites and internet chat rooms, P&O Cruses were being slaughtered by people purporting to be their shocked customers. This is not shocking news and something that everyone who knows the cruise industry knows goes on. In a statement, P&O Cruises said the move was part of a package to "make crew more responsive" and offer protection as tips dry up in the economic downturn. David Dingle, CEO of Carnival UK who are the parent company of P&O cruises, said that the crew were "much happier" and the new arrangement was a win-win for passengers, staff and P&O. He said many crew took home over £1,000 a month, but tougher times meant that sadly, our customers were reluctant to pay the recommended level of tipping. Cash tips are being phased out in favour of electronic tips automatically added to passengers' bills, which pay for the potential performance bonus. As passengers could opt out of paying, Mr. Dingle said, the firm was "taking the risk out" by paying bonuses if targets were met. "We've handled it fairly and decently and made sure their pay is being protected," he said. It was also reported that bonuses will be held back in part if customers' feedback ratings do not exceed targets, some of which stand at 96%. Cabin stewards whose attitude was ranked below 92% by customers will forfeit an entire bonus payment worth approximately 15% of their basic salary. The crew have also been warned that P&O's funding of the scheme "is dependent on the passengers paying their auto gratuities". Mr. Dingle continued, "You've got staff from eastern Europe in restaurants in Britain – why? Because it's great money. Yes, the minimum wage is more than we pay, but this is a global industry, our businesses have to remain competitive. Let's not forget the level of take-home pay for our staff, the vast majority of whom come from India. Look at hotels in Goa, the earning ability is greater on our ships, we have a manning office in Mumbai there are queues out on to the street. It clearly is of value to these people." What this really means is that P&O Cruises are already following the lead taken by other cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and NCL Cruises to name but a few where 15% is automatically added to your drinks bill, which the companies tell you is “for your convenience”. In reality it is another way of paying staff a lower wage and taking more money off the passenger. Passengers on the P&O Oriana ship that recently returned to Southampton said members of the mainly Indian crew (the restaurant staff and cabin stewards) seemed upset by the deal. One passenger said it was an "absolute scandal" stating that grown men were in tears at a meeting towards the end of a 97-day world cruise where they were notified of the new arrangements. The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: "Holidaymakers will be horrified to learn that some of the seafarers on their cruise ships are paid so little. It's high time the disgraceful practice of allowing the shipping industry to pay poverty wages to workers who don't live in the UK was stopped. Exploitative rates of pay for those working on British ships have no place in a modern society."