Cruise Contract Disputes

Contract Disputes

Working for a cruise line may mean working 70-hour weeks under less than satisfactory conditions. Cruise lines tend to take advantage of their employees. You should know you have valuable contract rights as a cruise ship worker. If you do not actively take measures to protect these rights, your cruise line employers may exploit you when they get the opportunity. Cruise lines are known for ignoring key provisions in workers’ employment contracts. However, you can hold them accountable.

Louis A. Vucci P.A. is dedicated to protecting the rights of cruise ship workers. When a cruise ship unlawfully avoids following basic terms in your employment agreement, we can help you assert your rights. We can prepare a strong case for any disputes before an arbitrator. Call Louis A. Vucci P.A. at [phone number] today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

About Cruise Line Crew Member Contracts

Cruise line employment agreements typically describe your job as “at will” employment. These agreements are “adhesion” contracts since one party drafts the contract and requires the other party to sign the agreement as-is or decline the employment offer. Under this type of agreement, your job is only at the will of your employer. At-will employment means your cruise line employer has the right to fire you for a good cause, bad cause, or no cause. Of course, an at-will employment arrangement allows you to quit your job aboard the cruise ship anytime. However, this may present complications if you are at sea.

Sorting out your legal rights with an at-will employment contract requires expert legal analysis. Asserting your rights from an at-will employment contract demands aggressive legal representation at every stage of the contract dispute.

Laws Affecting Cruise Ship Workers

Since cruise lines register ships under different foreign flags, determining your legal rights can be complicated. A cruise line attorney can answer your questions and seek compensation for your injuries and losses. Working with an experienced lawyer can help reduce your stress and feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty.

Most cruise lines, through their affiliation with a trade association known as the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), adhere to the Maritime Labour Convention (“MLC”). CLIA members include Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Royal Caribbean International. Countries where the ships list their registry must also comply with the MLC. Fortunately, the countries where most cruise ships are registered abide by the terms of the MLC. However, the U.S. has not signed onto the MLC.

The MLC is an agreement containing provisions granting specific rights to seafarers, which includes cruise ship employees. The MLC contains guidance and direction for the fair and lawful treatment of ship workers or seafarers. Cruise workers have the right to fair employment terms. Any cruise line that forces an employee to adhere to unfair employment terms violates the cruise line/crew member employment agreement. As a result, a crew member may have the right to seek compensation for a contract dispute.

The maritime laws of the United States may still apply to cruise ship workers in some circumstances. These federal laws provide more protection than the laws of most foreign countries. U.S. maritime laws only apply to cruise ship workers in limited circumstances, such as when employed on a ship registered under an American flag.

Laws like the Jones Act also apply to seamen working for a cruise line with a principal place of business in the United States. The Jones Act definition of seaman applies to most cruise ship employees. However, the Jones Act is a negligence-based remedy that applies only when a seaman suffers injuries on the job. Arbitration clauses typically attempt to limit the applicability of the Jones Act for any contract dispute or accident claim. The Jones Act may not apply anyway to a contract dispute. In overtime disputes involving seamen, the Fair Labor Standards Act {“FLSA”}, rather than the Jones Act, applies. The FLSA does not give seamen the right to receive overtime.

Common Crew Member Contract Disputes

In addition to the right to fair terms of employment, cruise line employment contracts that follow the Maritime Labour Convention grants crew members other rights, including:

  • The right to a safe and secure workplace in compliance with any applicable safety standards
  • The right to decent working and living conditions
  • The right to health protection, medical care, welfare measures, and other social protection

If a cruise line unfairly treats you based on the terms of your employment contract, you may have a right to pursue compensation. Many former crew members complain that cruise lines routinely fail to follow standard operating procedures when making any decision affecting a crew member’s employment, such as termination or disciplinary action.

You may have a contract dispute based on a cruise ship failing to provide overtime or adequate rest periods. If a cruise ship fails to provide proper living and working conditions, you may also have a remedy for any harm caused by these poor conditions under your employment contract.

Arbitration and Contract Disputes

Cruise lines often insert arbitration clauses in crew member employment contracts. These provisions make arbitration mandatory for disputes related to crew member employment contracts. An arbitration clause typically invokes the laws and forums of countries like Panama, Bermuda, or the Bahamas. Why? The laws of these countries (coincidentally) favor cruise lines since they provide few safeguards and other protections for crew members.

Cruise lines use arbitration as a substitute for formal court proceedings. Working for a cruise line can cause a crew member to forfeit rights a worker would generally enjoy under U.S. law. Cruise companies use arbitration clauses as their primary tool to limit crew members’ legal rights. By signing the employment contract, a cruise ship employee waives the right to file a civil claim in a United States federal or state court. A crew member also waives the right to have a jury hear and decide any contract dispute.

A sample arbitration clause:

“[A]ny and all disputes, claims or controversies whatsoever, whether in contract, regulatory, tort or otherwise, including but not limited to, constitutional, statutory, common law, intentional tort and equitable claims, as well as Jones Act and Wage Act claims, claims for negligence, unseaworthiness, maintenance and cure, failure to provide prompt, proper and adequate medical care, personal injury, death or property damage and whether accruing prior to, during or after the expiration of this Agreement (collectively “Disputes”), shall be resolved by final and binding arbitration.”

These clauses are lengthy and complicated. Many laypersons require professional assistance to interpret their meaning and applicability. You must submit any contract dispute to arbitration if you are a crew member on Carnival Cruise Lines, Disney Cruise Lines, Holland America, Norwegian, or Royal Caribbean.

However, there is some good news related to cruise lines’ reliance on arbitration as a method of dispute resolution. A United States Appeals Court recently held that arbitration did not apply to a dispute between employees and a cruise line. The case involved cruise ship employees forced to remain onboard their employer’s cruise ship for two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court reasoned that the arbitration agreements signed by the workers only applied to claims arising from their employment, not their claims of the cruise line’s intentional wrongdoing after termination.

Why You Need an Attorney

Contract Disputes

If you work on a cruise ship, your cruise line employer can stack the deck against you. Cruise lines draft their employment agreements to benefit themselves in every possible instance. They use the threat of arbitration to avoid lawsuits. The arbitration process can intimidate cruise ship workers who feel they cannot succeed in any contract dispute. As a result, filing a lawsuit against a cruise line when the cruise ship has caused you to suffer some harm related to an accident or contract dispute is challenging.

Not only does a cruise line have an advantage over a crew member because of the unavailability of U.S. laws and courts, but a cruise line also plays a primary role in selecting the arbitrator hearing the dispute. Given a chance, a cruise line will choose arbitrators who traditionally decide on contract disputes favoring cruise line employers.

Despite all the advantages cruise lines hold over an employee, a seasoned and knowledgeable attorney can help you assert your rights and overcome any obstacles a cruise line uses to prevent you from receiving compensation. Whether you have a dispute under the MLC or U.S. maritime law, a cruise ship attorney can interpret the applicable law, gather evidence, and present your case before an arbitrator, giving you the best chance of success.

Contact a Cruise Ship Lawyer Today

A consultation with a Louis A. Vucci P.A. cruise ship lawyer can provide crucial answers to any questions about a dispute involving your employment contract with an employer cruise line. After evaluating your case in detail, our attorneys can explain your available options. We can determine the laws applicable to your contract dispute and present the best case possible under your circumstances. Call Louis A. Vucci P.A. at (786) 375-0344 today or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.