Working Conditions in Cruise Ships

The International Labour Organization’s (“ILO”) Maritime Labour Convention (“MLC”) is providing new rights and protection for more than 1.2 million seafarers working on vessels around the world.1 The MLC will be implemented starting in August 20, 2013, after receiving ratification earlier this year by at least 30 member states with a share of one-third of the world’s gross tonnage.2  The new ruling  “consolidates and updates more than 68 international labour standards related to the Maritime sector adopted over the last 80 years.”3

   The legislation impacts “seafarers”, which are defined as “any person who is employed or engaged or works in any capacity on board a ship”4. Musicians and entertainment industry personnel employed pursuant to exclusive employment agreements with their respective cruise line are thus entitled to the new rights provided in the MLC.  In light of the fact that the MLC presents the guidelines as generally applying to all seafarers, this paper will speak of musicians rather than seafarers.

Increasingly, the major cruise lines such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Disney are incorporating innovative forms of entertainment and searching for cutting edge acts to distinguish one cruise line from the next. This is breeding jobs. Disney Cruise Lines’ Entertainment Operations Team, for instance, recruits music acts, performers, and DJs among the more than fifty-five entertainment related positions it advertises.5

Musicians Aboard

The new protective mantle afforded by the ILO is a game changer: musicians signing contracts to perform on cruise ships after August 20, 2013 will be entering into Seafarer’s Employment Agreements (“SEA”) under Regulation 2.1 of the MLC.

Under the regulation, musicians are now required to have an original copy of their employment agreement signed by themselves and the ship owner or the ship owner’s representative; in the past, musicians would have unresolved questions regarding the terms of their contract.6  Furthermore, the musician’s employment agreement must at a minimum contain specific information provided in Standard A2.1 of the MLC. In particular, “where a collective bargaining agreement forms all or part of the [musician’s] employment agreement, the agreement must be on board the ship with relevant provisions in English (except on ships engaged only in domestic voyages).”7 A final note relates to notice periods for termination. Specifically, the cruise line must establish minimum notice periods for early termination of an SEA by either the musician or the cruise line: this is good given the uncertainties attached to a new form of employment unknown to most musicians.8

Secondly, pertinent to a career as a cruise ship musician, is Regulation 2.2 governing wages under the MLC.  Cruise lines must pay musicians “at no greater than monthly intervals and in full for their work in accordance with their employment agreements and any applicable collective agreement.”9  Moreover, musicians will be entitled to have better oversight of the cruise line’s accounting practices related to wages and additional payments; the cruise line must also provide reasonable charges for remittances/allotment transmission services and exchange rates.10

Finally, the new legislation regulates the hours of work and hours of rest guaranteed to musicians by the MLC under Regulation 2.3.  Specifically, the maximum amount of work that a musician could do in any 24-hour period is 14 hours or alternatively, 72 hours in any seven-day period.  Additionally, the minimum hours of rest must be ten hours for every 24 hour period and 77 hours for every seven-day period.11  All artists are aware of the time, dedication and persistence required to entertain a crowd.  On cruise lines, entertainers often perform multiple times throughout the day and in different areas of the boat.  These protections should ensure that musicians and entertainers are allowed to rest and so perform at an optimal level.

A Sea Change

There is very little scholarly work relating to the protections that musicians will receive as a result of the convention, and the backlash by cruise owners is yet to be properly documented. For instance, cruise line owners do not welcome the MLC. .Joseph Cox, President & CEO of the Chamber of Shipping of America, says that  “the broad definition of a seafarers as anyone who works in any capacity on board is going to be problematic.”12  Fortunately for them, luxurious and expensive music-based cruises, featuring premium guest artists hired for brief appearances, would not fall under the provisions of the MLC. This means that popular cruises like the “Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise,” the “Smooth Jazz Cruise,” the “Rock Legends Cruise,” and Sixthman Productions, a cruise music production company recently acquired by the Norwegian Cruise Line, would not be impacted.13 

But all of this would be only a small consolation for cruise ship owners, for the law will have a much bigger effect on all labor hiring costs  (expenses for musicians are only a small fraction of the total).  The new MLC regulations are, at the end, an attempt to help redress a long-standing imbalance of power between employers and employees at sea. Bosses should not be happy. But if law is the chaperone of trade, the new legislation could drive more musicians to seek performing opportunities in the high seas—which might be good for employers.

By Ryan M. McCarthy



1. “Maritime Labour Convention,”–en/index.htm

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.


5. Ibid.


7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.


13. “Music cruises cover smooth jazz to hard rock”;




One Reply to “Working Conditions in Cruise Ships”

  1. Im Mafegolle 29 Years of age Im studying Double Bass and Electric Bass so I need 2 find out more about musicians emplyement,or any other General work In the Ship I will sent my CV just provide me with whr I can sent it

    (+2773) 422 1619
    Mashabela MJ

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