British cruise ship workers are paid a paltry 75p an hour - and now face losing cash tips if they don't meet performance targets.
Bosses at P&O Cruises are scrapping cash tips in favour of electronic gratuities that will be added to passenger bills. The company will then redistribute the money to staff.
According to documents seen by the Guardian, some members of crew earn a basic salary of just £250 a month for shifts lasting a minimum of 11 hours.
While the CEO of Carnival UK, David Dingle, said the move would "make crew more responsive" and "offer them protection as tips dry up in the economic downturn", some staff workers were reportedly "in tears" when told of the new arrangements.
Dingle told the Daily Telegraph: "You've got staff from eastern Europe in restaurants in Britain – why? Because it's great money. Yes, the minimum wage is more than we pay, but this is a global industry, Our businesses have to remain competitive.
"Let's not forget the level of take-home pay for our staff, the vast majority of whom come from India. Look at hotels in Goa. The earning ability is greater on our ships.
But some critics disagree, and believe the level of pay is exploitative.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: "Holidaymakers will be horrified to learn that some of the seafarers on their cruise ships are paid so little.
"It's high time the disgraceful practice of allowing the shipping industry to pay poverty wages to workers who don't live in the UK was stopped. Exploitative rates of pay for those working on British ships have no place in a modern society."
But Carol Marlow, the company's managing director, said the move would also remove the embarrassing moment for passengers when they don't know how much or when to tip staff in the same way a restaurant adds suggested gratuity to a bill.
"Tipping has always been an integral part of the cruise experience but sometimes our passengers tell us they've been confused over whether or when to leave a cash tip for their waiters and cabin stewards.
"The new policy will see a recommended tipping rate added to a passenger's on-board account on a daily basis. The recommended daily rate per person will be the same as has been in place for several years, namely £3.10, which is less than other cruise companies recommend as a daily rate. If our passengers wish to vary this amount they can do so whilst on board."
Already northern Europe's main port for the cruise industry, Southampton is expecting 1.5 million passengers to begin or end a cruise there in 2012 - a rise of 100,000 people - and is set to get a £45 million 'cruise boost'.
According to the Daily Echo, the Passenger Shipping Association reports that UK cruise industry revenues went up from £2.3 billion to more than £2.4 billion in 2011.
It also added that the average price paid for a cruise ship berth was up to £1,434.
Do you think cruise workers are being paid 'exploitative' rates? And is it a good idea to swap cash tips to pre-set electronic gratuities? Leave your thoughts below...
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