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UK luxury cruise liner sacks Indian crew over pay protest

world Updated: Jul 03, 2012 00:45 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar

The owners of the British luxury liner P&O Cruises have sacked 150 Indian waiters for protesting wages as low as 75 pence per hour – eight times below the national minimum.

The waiters, the lowest paid in an Indian restaurant on board the cruise ship Arcadia, were sacked after going on a 90-minute, apparently good-natured protest. The action was prompted by plans to replace cash tips — a key supplement to basic wages — with billed tips that would be used to fund performance-related bonuses.

P&O, which is owned by Carnival Corporation, is celebrating its 175th anniversary on Tuesday – an occasion expected to be graced by members of the British royalty. Cruises on the Arcadia, which boasts of “immaculately presented Asian fusion dishes,” can cost up to £4,379 per person.

The Indian waiters were hired by Fleet Maritime Service International, a Mumbai-based firm registered in Bermuda with its payroll office in Guernsey, a tax haven, thus allowing it to ignore Britain’s minimum wage law of £6.08 per hour.

Steve Todd of the RMT union, which represents British seafarers, said: “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.”

A P&O spokeswoman said on Sunday the waiters’ action was “without warning, ‘unofficial’ and greatly impacted our customers. 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.”

Prasad Hariharan, general manager of P&O Cruises Advatnage, which supplied the Indian crew for the British luxury liner, sought to wash his hands off the issue.

“I don’t have too many details of the said development. We act as an agency for the company (P&O) for providing manpower. We act on the company’s direction. For more information, please contact the office in the UK,” Hariharan told HT on Monday.

Asked if the Indian crew members were briefed about the terms and conditions of their employment, Hariharan said, “Our men (employees) briefed them in details about their terms and conditions of their contract, including their salary. Only after that did they sign the contract.”