Salary of cruise crew

27 May

Every labour has its price. At the end of the day you would hope that the price on your own health was matched or exceeded by a monetary compensation from your employer. With big international corporations that is not always (barely ever) the case, so today, one month after I started this job as cruise photographer, we really should talk about money.

Central Park in Bergen, Norway

Bergen is full of parks and great architecture. It’s also a rich city, but of that money I saw little.

Tonight I shot pictures in the Atrium, together with Marina, one of my few semi-normal coworkers in this otherwise lunacy-driven department. In between waves of unwilling passengers we had some time to chat about work. The central question of our conversation was “why are you here”, which Marina translated into “who lied to you?” A valiant observation, as I might add. Luca lied to me; he is the agent who recruited me to this vessel. He promised me fair working conditions, and a salary of roughly $1000 per cruise; with one cruise lasting about one week. I won’t comment on Luca’s interpretation of “fair working conditions”, because there already is a sweep of blogs dealing with that strangulation of reality. Instead, I will comment to some extent on the money.

$1000 per week, multiplied with four weeks per month makes approximately $4000 a month, a more than fair salary for a first-world citizen. However, my true salary appears to be one quarter of that, or so everyone else on the team claims. Not that I really could tell at this point, because I have not been paid yet. So far I only had expenses.

Before even being considered for the job I had to provide several certificates that guaranteed I was healthy (€95), knew the difference between safety and danger (€740), and was able to point towards the nearest exit (€50). Since not everybody can certify these things, I had to travel to certain educational institutions (€94), find accommodation in their vicinity (€304), and have the certificates ratified by a peculiar German government agency (€25). Travelling internationally also bears health risks, so I had to be vaccinated against yellow fever and a few other plagues (€124).

Goemon5 aboard the ABC RypMeOff

Just as any job aboard that of the cruise photographer somes with a uniform code.

Uniforms are not free either. Luckily, I was given an outline of the dress code for cruise photographers, and spent one day in Berlin (€12) to purchase code-abiding clothes in various second-hand shops (€118). Aboard the vessel I realised that I was not quite done purchasing things, and had to add a department-branded polo shirt (€8), tie (€2), and bow tie (€2), followed by a request to purchase black socks (€9) and dress shoes (€18). The last two items will only become relevant in a few days, but I shall add them to the list anyway. Finally, to date I invested €20 into an unjustifiably slow internet connection, because there is no other way to communicate with the outside world. At least not if you want to use your port time to, you know, see the port, instead of stealing free WiFi at a willing Internet Café.

So far it cost me €1401 to start and keep my job as cruise photographer, while the only personal investment ABC Cruises has made was the flight and cab ride that brought me to the ship. That’s right, cruise companies don’t pay upfront for personal expenses. You either pay for that stuff on your own, or you don’t get the job. It’s not surprising then that not more people are clambering to get a job aboard – you have to be really invested to be considered for a position, and for the first two months almost your entire payment goes towards covering your upfront investments.

Now, I did not know this before I started, and my calculations came to a much more positive conclusion. Luca actually said my pay would be around $4000 a month, which I was naïve enough to believe. “Hold on, stupid,” I hear you screaming, “surely you signed a contract of employment, stating your financial agreement with ABC Cruises!” Yes, I did, and said paper claims that the wages amount to $994. However the contract does not state the time frame during which this money is to be considered. Thus, the statement agrees with Luca’s claim of “about one thousand dollars per cruise”, while also adhering to the reality of roughly $1000 per month. I should probably be thankful that the time frame does not encompass a whole year, otherwise the job would never start paying for itself.

Just imagine the pure evil behind this treachery – your new boss provides you with a very lucrative pay week, and asks you to invest two weeks worth of salary upfront. Then it turns out he meant “pay month”, which effectively quarters your earnings. And you can’t even leave the job, because you made upfront investments that your employer was too cheap to pay for.

Globe Monument at the North Cape, Norway

Just as tourists get ripped off at the North Cape cruise crew are used and abused by their employer.

Fortunately, I never buy anything on credit, so I don’t HAVE to pay off those initial investments, although I would prefer not to make a loss on this adventure. Our crew members from Indonesia, Brazil, or Macedonia rarely have that luxury. Once they are aboard, they need to finish their seven-month contract in order to make it worthwhile. On top of that they often have to pay a few hundred dollars to cruise agencies in order to get invited for an interview. That probably explains why the ABC RypMeOff is overrun with disgruntled men and women from 2nd-World countries. Both the job and the pay are terrible, but the overall income still is far better than anything they would ever get back home.

What about me, then? I could easily make the same amount of money if I was flipping burgers, which also strikes against my belief system, but at the very least grants a better work atmosphere, AND shorter work days. A few weeks back I was also jesting about applying as cruise musician. In the past few days that option has become far more attractive, and will undergo serious consideration as soon as I return home.

But before that I have to finish this contract, one way or another. Since my grand discussion with the human resource manager two weeks ago I have not received any more complains about my personality or visual appearance. That means getting fired is off the table for the moment. Still, I don’t easily quit a project that I started; that is not in my stubborn nature. Either I find considerable reason to leave this hazardous occupation, or I finish this grossly underpaid contract. Now that I know the truth about my salary the phrase “at least I get paid” is no longer a viable excuse for the terrible treatment I endure aboard this vessel. Time will tell if we can find a reliable replacement.


PS.: We also visited Bergen, and it was nice. Click here to view pretty pictures.

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