My friend is an immigrant working on a cruise ship. Is this "normal"?
My best friend signed a contract to become a crewman on a cruise ship through an Eastern European agency, traveled to Florida with a C1/D visa and started working – the company that runs the cruise line is based in Florida. He is an incredible hard worker, and has been working in the tobacco fields together with his family since he was very young. He accepted this job because he wanted a way out from his country, any way possible, even though the pay for this job was lousy, he accepted the contract. He wasn't however, informed about the disgusting working conditions he finds himself now, and his descriptions of them are what horror movies are made from. Pictures/videos can also be provided. While the obvious solution of his problem is to leave, and lose his very hard earned (and heavily borrowed) investment, the purpose of this text is to see if we can do anything else about it. There are many other immigrants on this corrupt ship (from typically poor regions like India, Indonesia, Jamaica, Eastern Europe), with no voice or no ambition to ask for help. Think you can help? Read on!
Here is everything that he told me about his working conditions:
We don't have proper drinking water. The shower/tap water is yellow at all times, and it gets brown when the ship is moving, probably with rust from the tanks. The company isn't changing the water filters on time let alone dealing with the problem. When I asked if there's something being done about it, they said I have to buy bottled water from outside, or from the crew bar.
There's no appropriate drainage in the laundry room where I work. As a result, we regularly get flooded through the drain hole with very toxic water (due to the detergents we use) coming from the washing machines, among other sources. All we can do is use a vacuum cleaner (!!!) to drain it on our own, or notify the engine room people when the water levels get too high so they drain it manually. Bear in mind that the stench is so unbearable when we get flooded, and the dirty water is so toxic that it discolors and corrodes the floor - I can't even imagine what the effects from a prolonged exposure could be on a human being.
I got electrocuted shocked from a malfunctioning extension cord at my work place and almost nothing was done. The laundry supervisor didn't even report the incident so I had to report it myself! I went to the doctor and all he did was check my pulse, temperature and blood pressure and gave me some sort of vitamin shot, and never explained to me what it was. I kept coming back to his office with complains of pain in my left arm for days, and he said I'm having phantom pains... I got shocked on my left arm and this guy keeps telling me I have phantom pains! He also said that getting shocked with 220 volts of electric current is not dangerous... I'm not sure if this guy even has a medical degree. I'm pretty sure that everything above 50v of DC current can be lethal and this clown is claiming differently! This isn't the only problem I've had with this doctor. I kept telling him I have sleeping issues and he kept telling me to exercise and when I asked him to give me sleeping pills he gave me some pills and he told me to take a double dose. I asked him why, and if there are any side effects of the drug, but he got angry and refused to answer my questions. Another medical issue I developed is blood in my stool, although I am not quite sure what's the cause. Bear in mind that I was totally healthy before I got on this ship.
The garbage is not collected properly. The garbage is dumped on a giant pile on one of the decks, where there's regularly a collection of disgusting liquid which is not removed properly. The smell is unbelievably bad and there are HUGE numbers of flies all around, including my workplace because of the waste water in the laundry.
The crew personal rooms are lousy. We have very small cabins with no toilets, and the noisy drone from the ship prevents me from sleeping. The communal bathrooms as I mentioned have yellow water, and the shower cabins get flooded every time someone takes a shower. There's no regularly provided toilet paper, so we have to get it ourselves.
The food choices for the crew are minimal, containing highly spiced food. Out of the four food choices, two of them are spiced to hell and back making them inedible for me – I've lost weight since I started working, because I mostly eat vegetables and salads. On top of that, even the vegetables and fruits are not fresh many times – yellowed salads, overripe fruits, etc. Drinks such as juice, coffee, milk, tea, etc are not always provided as well. Sometimes the food for the crew is kept heated for days on end, and is served every single day.
The safety of the crew and the passengers is jeopardized due to faulty rescuing equipment. Part of the equipment is older than 20 years, and the rescue boats have to be manually lowered into the water – which takes a huge amount of time. The crew also doesn't have any life jackets in their cabins, because they are all located on the upper decks. If there is an emergency situation this ship and the crew will not be able to evacuate everybody in time, because the confusion would be enormous which would cause precious time to be lost on tracking down life jackets. A lot of people will die I guarantee you this! There are 300 crewmen and around 700 guests on average. I just hope that nothing will happen.
I have two alternating shifts. Day shift staring 6am-6pm and night shift 6pm-6am. During the day shift I am allowed to take very few breaks – one for breakfast 7am-7:30am, coffee breaks at 10am-10:15am and 3pm-3:15pm, and one big break from 12pm-1pm. During the night I can take the same amount of breaks whenever I like. In other words, we work 12 hours per day, 7 days a week with no overtime, and no guaranteed free days – we have to ask for a special permission for a day off.
And now the kicker. We get paid a monthly salary of $450, and perhaps a bit more from the tips that automatically come from the passengers. The tips are obviously not constant because the number of guests is not constant. My contract with this company is for 10 months, because I had no other choice. If I signed for less than 10 months, I would have to cover all the transportation costs for the trip back, but if I stay for 10 months or more the company covers the costs for my trip. Every month, the company withholds a specific amount of money from my salary, until they collect $900 for insurance, so they can cover the transportation costs in case I chose to cancel my contract and leave. The problem is that I do want to leave, but if I do, I would lose a lot of money because I've only made $650 the first two months I was here for example. The first month I made $450, but they paid me only $250 because they held $200 for the insurance. Again, overtime is not paid.
Many people have tried to sue/report the company before but they have failed. Nobody can do anything to this company! The president of the company is a former coast guard director and has connections all over Miami and nothing can be done about these problems. The USPH and Coast Guard do not pass the inspections as they should. They do not check anything. When others tried to get a lawyer from those maritime advocate firms they could not even get on the ship! I am very vulnerable here. There are no security cameras anywhere on the ship! I fear that something may happen to me if I try to get help from outside!
There's no way to put this in less words. Please don't downvote because of the length. This is not a troll post. If you do downvote, please explain why, perhaps we could clarify something if needed.
Here's a picture of the drainhole in the laundry room where he works.
 This was a difficult text for me to write. I am writing on behalf of one of my best friends, and while some of his text is left verbatim, I had to rephrase some of it to be better understood, and I also had to translate large portions of it as well. If at any moment the text sounds like it's been written by someone who just finished a giant meal at a top notch restaurant, topped off with an expensive wine – the tone belongs to me, not my friend. Not that I can afford a top notch restaurant, but you get the point.