P&O- that has announced its 175 anniversary celebrations with much fanfare- has sacked 150 Indian waiters for daring to protest against cutbacks in tips, British media reports. The long simmering resentment over tips- that are the most important part of the waiters' income- had resulted in the company agreeing, in 2010, to 'review procedures, to instigate more auto-tipping, and underwrite the crew’s precarious wages.'
Nothing was done thereafter; instead, we reported two months ago of the P&O Cruise's decision to withhold passenger tips unless 'performance targets' were met, something that had not gone down well with their mainly Asian crews. The actions of the Indian waiters have to be seen in this context.
For daring to protest, and despite assurances from the Captain and the Head Office "the careers of about 150 people have been quietly, summarily ended, the British Guardian says, pointing out that the livelihood of much of the crew- the lowest paid, getting as little as 75p an hour- depends on the 'goodwill of clientele'.
P&O's 'Arcadia,' on a cruise from Southampton to Alaska via the Panama Canal, was at Seattle in the USA when about 150 Indian waiters gathered- just before dinner- on the wharf to protest after anticipated tips from passengers 'did not materialise'. Disturbed about the impact on the passengers- one of whom said later that the protest was 'good humoured'- the ship's Captain Kevin Oprey spoke to the waiters- after talking to the Head Office at Southampton- who eventually returned to work after a one and a half hour interruption. Captain Oprey assured them that there would be no repercussions or comebacks later, and that the matter was settled.
However, when the crew returned home after completing their contracts, a letter was sent to them from Carnival- P&O's owners- which claimed that although Carnival were examining possibilities of “more guaranteed remuneration package at some point in the future” and “working on a project to address the issues”, they could not tolerate the crewmember's protest on the Arcadia. “Unfortunately", the letter said, "the majority of the restaurant crew on the Arcadia chose not to wait ... Instead these crew, which included yourself, chose to take industrial action ... greatly impacting our customers. This behaviour is not something Carnival UK is prepared to tolerate.” Not a single protesting crewmember was to be recalled, or offered a contract by the Mumbai based Fleet Maritime Service International, the manning agents, which send about 9,000 crew to the cruise industry.
P&O Cruises issued a statement: "The withdrawal of labour which was undertaken by some of Arcadia's restaurant team on May 10, 2011 was without warning, "unofficial" and greatly impacted our customers. At the time, the Captain committed that no disciplinary action would be taken. As a result, all crew were allowed to complete their current contracts. However, given the serious and inappropriate nature of the staff's actions, P&O Cruises has decided not to offer any further contracts to the crew concerned.”
The Arcadia is registered in Bermuda, and the company knows that there will be little protection for the sacked crew. Carnival UK's CEO David Dingle had dismissed Asian crew's concerns earlier this year, saying people were 'queuing in the street' to get into the Fleet Maritime Service offices in Mumbai. Britain’s minimum wage is £6.08 per hour.
Says Steve Todd of the British RMT union, “Big, reputable cruise companies have got convoluted ways of getting past the employment legislation of countries they belong to. It’s a shabby, unacceptable practice to exploit cheap foreign labour and it needs stamping out.”