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Wage and Hour Violations

If you work on a cruise ship, you know that the job can be demanding and challenging. You might work long hours, often in difficult conditions. You never get a vacation day and go months without seeing your friends and family. For these challenges, you expect to receive fair wages from your employer, and yet, too many cruise ship employers violate their hard-working employees’ rights. They may withhold overtime pay or tips, charge unfair fees for basic needs and services, or breach your employment contract.

You may feel powerless to fight back, but you are not. Louis A. Vucci P.A. can stand by you and hold your employer accountable for wage and hour violations. Our accomplished, experienced lawyer understands this exploitative industry and the available legal tools to make them pay. Contact Louis A. Vucci P.A. today at (786) 375-0344 for a free, confidential consultation. We are ready to fight for your rights and interests.

The Reality of Working on a Cruise Ship

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the industry employed over one million full-time employees and paid $50.53 billion in wages and salaries the year before the global pandemic. While the industry is still recovering from the pandemic, the CLIA expects passenger volume to surpass 2019 levels by the end of 2023, according to its most recent industry outlook report.

Despite the fluctuations in the industry, working conditions for some cruise ship members remain poor and, in some instances, may have worsened. For example, even as passenger numbers grow, cruise ships struggle to recruit enough workers, increasing the workload for each worker. According to research by Angela Teberga, a professor of tourism who focuses on the cruise industry, the average passenger capacity of cruise ships increased by 60 percent in one year. In contrast, the number of crew members increased by only 44 percent.

Business Insider reports that cruise ship members often sign six to eight-month contracts and work seven days a week for a minimum of 12 hours per day without any vacation days. According to an investigation by Univision, the base salary for most cruise ship employees ranges between 1,000 and $1,500 a month. However, “invisible jobs,” such as laundry or warehouse workers, can make as little as $600 monthly. Captains, directors, and onboard entertainers typically make more money.

Types of Wage and Hour Violations

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Cruise ship members may experience various wage and hour violations, which can vary depending on their positions, the cruise line they work for, and the laws of the country where the ship is registered. Some common wage and hour violations include:

  • Minimum wage violations – Cruise lines may violate minimum wage laws and pay their workers far below what they deserve. In the United States, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) stipulates the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour.
  • Unpaid tips – Many crew members work for tips, which cruise lines may exploit. According to USA Today, many cruise lines are implementing a practice of automatically charging passengers for gratuity to pay their workers, whose base pay may be as low as $2 per day. Under the FLSA, tipped employees’ minimum hourly cash wage is $2.13.
  • Unpaid wages – Some cruise lines may withhold wages from a worker’s paycheck for food, drinks, internet, laundry, and personal hygiene products or services. These practices may become exploitative, cheating workers out of their rightfully earned wages.
  • Unpaid overtime – In the United States, workers covered by the FLSA must receive overtime pay at 1.5 times their regular rate for hours worked beyond the 40-hour work week. Most crew members work far beyond this limit, often 80 to 100 hours a week. If a cruise line fails to pay a worker their deserved rate for overtime, they could violate labor laws.
  • Contract violations – Many cruise ship workers sign contracts of six months or more that outline the rights and responsibilities of the employer and employee. Contracts may include clauses on the employee’s rights, responsibilities, and wages. If a cruise ship violates the contract, the worker can legally pursue them for contract violations.
  • Wage violations after an injury – If a crew member gets injured on the job and cannot work, they may be able to recover lost wages by filing a claim under the Jones Act.

How Cruise Ships Take Advantage of Their Workers

The cruise ship industry often takes advantage of its workers and violates their rights to honest wages and work hours. The attorneys at Louis A. Vucci P.A. would highlight the following exploitative practices by cruise lines:

  • Hire workers from countries without legal protections – Many cruise lines purposefully hire workers from countries without the same legal protections as those in the United States. According to Business Insider, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe are major sources of cruise ship employees, whereas only five percent are American citizens or legal residents. Many of these foreign workers have limited economic options in their home countries. Therefore, they may tolerate horrible working conditions at low pay because they make more money than they could at home. Furthermore, they may have limited legal options to fight against wage violations.
  • Incorporate in countries without legal protections – Many cruise lines register their ships outside the United States in a practice known as flying a flag of convenience. Panama and Liberia are two popular locations for registering vessels because they maintain open registries without nationality or residency requirements and do not charge income taxes.
  • Mandatory arbitration clauses – Many crew member contracts contain mandatory arbitration clauses which require employees to arbitrate or resolve a dispute outside of court. These clauses deny crew members the right to file a lawsuit and seek damages through the civil justice system.
  • Retaliation for reporting violations – If a crew member reports any violation by a cruise line, they may face retaliation, which could take the form of wage and hour violations.

Cruise ship crew members enjoy a range of legal protections established in international and national law. However, it is important to remember that specific legal protections vary depending on the country where the ship is registered and operates. If you’re unsure which laws apply to your employment, a lawyer at Louis A. Vucci P.A. can advise you.

Fair Labor Standards Act

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law in the United States that establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and youth employment standards for employees. The U.S. Department of Labor enforces the FLSA.
The FLSA generally protects cruise ship workers employed in the United States or by U.S.-based companies. However, workers on foreign-flagged ships may lack protections under the FLSA.

Maritime Labour Convention

The Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is an international labor agreement adopted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 2006 that establishes minimum working and living standards for seafarers worldwide, including those working on cruise ships. The MLC provides workers who are employed in countries that are signatories to the Convention with a range of wage rights, including the following:

  • The right to be paid in full with a statement of payments and deductions
  • The right to be paid any outstanding wages at the end of a worker’s contract
  • The right to receive pay at least monthly
  • Overtime records that are maintained by the crew office and endorsed by the worker at least monthly
  • The right to send all or part of a worker’s earnings home without unreasonable charges
  • No deductions from pay, unless permitted by national law, included in a collective agreement or employment contract

While U.S. lawmakers have not ratified the MLC, many other countries where cruise ships are registered have.

Seaman’s Protection Act

Enacted in 2010, the Seaman’s Protection Act (SPA) is a federal law in the United States that provides legal protections for seaman, including cruise ship workers, who do any of the following:

  • Report unsafe working conditions
  • Report work-related injuries or illnesses
  • Participate in a safety investigation
  • Testify in an enforcement proceeding
  • Refuse to work under dangerous conditions
  • Provide information about a maritime accident to a public official

The SPA protects the workers from retaliation by their employer in many forms, including termination, demotion, reduction in hours, or denial of overtime pay, promotions, or benefits. If an employer does retaliate, the worker can file a complaint and seek damages for lost wages and benefits.

Jones Act

The Jones Act is a federal law in the United States that protects seamen who get injured, ill, or killed due to their employer’s negligence. Injured or ill workers can hold their employer responsible for their medical expenses, room and board, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other accident related-losses incurred during their recovery.

Contact Louis A. Vucci P.A. to Protect Your Rights

If your employer violated your rights to fair wages and hours, contact Louis A. Vucci P.A. today to speak with a member of our experienced legal team. We have represented many cruise ship crew members like you who were unfairly treated by their employers. Call Louis A. Vucci P.A. today at (786) 375-0344 to learn more about how our attorney can help with our wage and hour case.