International Campaign for Better Jobs in the River Cruise Industry

An open letter to passengers

Dear Passenger,

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) wish you a relaxing and interesting cruise.  We are sure that the entire crew will do everything for your comfort and well-being ensuring that your cruise becomes an unforgettable experience.

Just as the crew will work for your well-being, so do we in the ITF and ETF and our member unions work to improve the crews’ living and working conditions.  Working on a ship is a special challenge as it isn’t just a workplace but also a floating home for weeks and sometimes months on end.  The crews aim, as do most people, to earn a decent salary from which they and their families are able to live.  But sadly things are not always what they seem.

We assume that you may not be aware that whilst you are enjoying your stay on board, the people who serve your meals and clean your cabins often struggle to make ends meet.  Salaries can be so low and working conditions so bad that even after 9 months of consecutive hard work with working days of up to 14 hours they still have to rely on your tips to bring some money back home to their families at the end of the season.  This is the fate of many of those working on the hotel, restaurant and catering (horeca) side of the booming cruise industry, some of whom come from East Asia to earn a living.

The ITF and ETF did engage with European cruise industry’s employers and invited them to negotiations for a European framework agreement for both the nautical crew as well as the horeca staff in order to prevent social abuses and exploitation.  Unfortunately, after 2 years of stalling, IG River Cruise declared themselves unready to negotiate due to internal divisions and some companies have refused to even allow union representatives on board to talk to the crew about their situation on board.

We would like to seek your help in reaching out to the crew members.  Please let your voice be heard in support of the people who make your cruise a success.  For instance: ask the managers about conditions on board, maybe ask to look at the accommodation (2 or more in a small cabin, maybe 4 people sharing a shower and toilet), enquire about how the people are insured and employed, perhaps pose the question as to whether salaries which can be as low as 600 Euros a month for a 48-72 hour week are «decent» or «fair».

And, next time you book a cruise on one of Europe’s rivers – consider a company which offers truly fair employment and living conditions, which allows visits by union representatives to all ships and perhaps is even willing to recognise the right of people to be represented by trade unions.

On behalf of the crew, thank you for your support in helping us to work for better jobs for all.

Yours sincerely,

On behalf of the Inland Waterways Sections of the ETF and ITF

Nick Bramley

Section President