Undercover cruise exposé is under-researched and underwhelming

//Undercover cruise exposé is under-researched and underwhelming

Celebrity Cruises put its PR machine into overdrive when they got wind of Cruises Undercover, a Channel 4 documentary which threatened to expose “the reality of life below deck for the multi-national workforce who toil behind the scenes of glamorous ocean-going holidays.”
Ironically, the move probably excited more interest in the programme than there might otherwise have been. One recent episode of the Dispatches series had, after all, revealed the startling news that not every item on sale in Poundland stores is actually a bargain.
For their cruise ship exposé, presenter Tazeen Ahmed travelled on board Celebrity Eclipse to the Norwegian fjords, enjoying luxurious manicures and delicious dinners, while expressing genuine amazement at her surroundings. “It really is like a five-star hotel,” she commented soon after boarding, and later remarked on the “old school glamour” of formal night.
“The service, as always, is completely impeccable, highly attentive, and can’t be faulted,” she added.
Meanwhile her colleague Paul Mills had signed up to work undercover as an assistant waiter, and the two would meet in the ship’s Ocean View restaurant, recording on hidden cameras as they surreptitiously compared notes.
The fact that waiters and other crew such as cabin stewards and laundry attendants work long hours for low pay will have come as little surprise to anyone who has travelled on a cruise ship and engaged in conversation with the staff, or to anyone who read earlier this year of the unrest at P&O Cruises when it changed the way its employees received their share of gratuities.
Unlike Mills, who has presumably had a good education in the UK – he worked on another C4 documentary earlier this year and has written for The Guardian – most of his fellow workers are from countries where jobs are harder to come by and the wages are much lower than they can earn on ships.
Mills may have found his 83-hour weeks, plus training, more strenuous than sitting at a desk but those putting in the hours alongside him come back time and again to work on ships so they can provide financial support for the families they have left behind in India or the Philippines.
It was no surprise either that Dispatches rolled out a Miami lawyer who specialises in taking on cruise companies and is selling a book titled Unsafe on the High Seas. Or an academic whose publications include Cruise Ship Blues: The Underside of the Cruise Ship Industry. It’s not as if they were attempting to paint a balanced picture.
Celebrity have accepted that an error by their “hiring partner” – or employment agency – resulted in Mills not receiving his contract until three days after he started work on Eclipse.
They added: “We are taking immediate steps to investigate all of the allegations made by the undercover reporter to determine their basis and validity. If we discover that anyone within the company, or at the hiring and placement agencies we work with, violated our procedures and requirements, or the European and international labour regulations to which we adhere, then we will take swift and corrective actions.
“Our company stands behind the pay, benefits and working conditions we offer our employees. As a business, Celebrity Cruises creates thousands of global job opportunities each year, giving employees on shore and on our ships the chance to significantly increase their earnings potential and provide financial support to their families.”
They also claim that most employees entitled to receive tips – as waiter Mills was – receive significantly higher amounts than their guaranteed monthly minimum, and that in accordance with international employment agreements, all crew receive mandatory overtime pay, free room and board on the ships, agreed rest hours, medical cover and sick pay, plus disability benefits and a retirement pension.
“Celebrity Cruises acknowledges that working onboard a ship can be challenging and is not for everyone. However, we believe our crew members realise that in return for their hard work they receive benefits that include good pay, extensive vacation time, career advancement for top performers, and travel and adventure.
That is why Celebrity Cruises routinely receives high crew satisfaction scores from confidential surveys, and many employees work with us for years while providing financial support for their families. While we are disappointed to hear the concerns stated by the reporter regarding his short time working onboard, we don’t believe these are representative of the more than 13,000 satisfied shipboard employees who deliver memorable holidays for our guests.”
Viewer comments on Twitter were mixed, ranging from those who felt cruise ship emplyees were treated like slaves, to those who thought that the programme was under-researched and biased.
►Did you watch the show? What do YOU think of cruise ship crew and their pay and working conditions?

By | 2017-06-15T15:59:42+00:00 2 October 2012|Cruise News|4 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.


  1. Chris Roberts 2 October 2012 at 8:45 am - Reply

    I have just returned from the Disney Magic Inaugural cruise from Galveston and having spoken with a lot of the crew they had nothing but praise for their treatment by Disney and several had been with the ship since its launch in 1998 – Disney go that extra mile!

  2. John, I agree that this documentary did not bring new information or story to the debate. Pity as I think that (as you say) anyone that goes on cruises knows how tough and hard the crew have to work for what seems to be low income by rich western country standards. The reality is that the same “rich” (in relative term) western passengers also want to pay as little as possible to cruise – and cruise companies are under constant pressure to drive down costs. I think that is more of the story/ angle about consumer reluctance to pay more and how we all are happier to turn a blind eye or tut a bit. Same is true of low cost clothes etc. We all tut at the working conditions but still want to pay a fiver for a pair of jeans! I was disappointed with the overall documentary as think it could have been more educational. Such as how flags of convenience work and the legal implications etc. Did feel a bit too light weight. The one they did on ticket reselling was a good example of something more well researched and explored. 😉

  3. Bollinge 2 October 2012 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I thought it significant that two “hard done by” bedroom stewards were well-paid enough to be able to afford to back-hand their colleagues between $80-$140 for assistance with housekeeping on change-over day!

  4. Julian Bray 11 October 2012 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    It was a sloppy piece of work, and fell wway below the usual high standards of the C4 flagship programme suffice to say some families have worked th4e ships for many years and I knew one waiter who had worked the Legend of the Seas for 10 years at the time I met him! In fact ever since the ship launched. 10 months on the ship and two months at home in the Phillipines. His money supports the whole family and most of his village….
    I also seem to remember working double 8 hour shifts in the BBC news rooms, now that is hard work!

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