Luxury cruises

Young Chinese jobseekers turn to luxury cruises

To get a job as a member of kitchen staff aboard a luxury cruise liner, 23-year-old Daniel paid a hiring agent more than US$6,000

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 October, 2017, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 October, 2017, 8:10pm

An increasing number of young Chinese are aspiring to become crew members on luxury cruises, even as some of them have to pay as much as six months’ salary to hiring agencies.

High salaries and opportunities to travel the world have propelled a surge in job applicants, while international cruise operators have aggressively expanded in China, the world’s second largest cruise market, over the past five years.

Stella Zhang, a sales manager at Royal Caribbean, recalls that seven years ago the number of Chinese staff on an international cruise “can be counted on the fingers of one hand”.

Nowadays, 16 cruise lines have home ports in China. A medium-sized cruise line with a home port in China employs about half its crew members from the mainland. A cruise liner generally has about 1,500 to 2,000 crew members.

“My main motivation is to make big money, and I also want to see the world,” said Daniel, a 23-year-old who recently passed job interviews to become a member of kitchen staff, declining to give his surname.

To get the job he paid an intermediary hiring agent 40,000 yuan (US$6,020). As part of the preparation service, he was given coaching in basic English and received help in signing up for interviews.

The monthly salary for entry-level crew members is around US$1,000.

“It will be no problem for me to make the 40,000 yuan back and some extra after one trip,” Daniel said. His first trip is likely to be around 8 months.

Agencies usually charge between 18,000 yuan and 30,000 yuan. But agency fee shouldn’t cost more than 7,000 yuan (US$1,054), as the mandatory classes for crew members only cost 3,500 yuan, said Eason, a hiring agent dealing with up to 200 jobseekers a year, who declined to give his last name.

His agent has helped several thousand people land crew jobs, Daniel said.

Crew jobs, complete with complimentary room and board, are an attractive alternative to working in big cities as migrant workers. Daniel, who worked as a chef in Beijing for three years after graduating from high school, found it difficult to save money.

“There is no use even if you make 5,000 yuan or 6,000 yuan in Beijing,” said Daniel. “With food and rent, the pressure is huge.”

The average monthly salary in Beijing was 7,706 yuan last year, according to the city’s Bureau of Statistics.

On average three to four applicants compete for each crew job, and successful jobseekers have to wait several months for vacancies on cruises before starting work.

“I think there might even be an oversupply of Chinese crew applicants,” said Eason.

As applicants for the cruise industry surged, new services have formed to help matching jobseekers with potential employers.

Owing to state regulations, international cruise line operators can only hire through labour dispatching service organisations certified by the government, said Jiang Junlu, vice-chairman of China Social Law Society.

“There are only 10 or so certified agencies that directly hire for cruise operators, but there are at least several hundred secondary and tertiary agencies that work for them,” said Eason. Many agencies operate in deceitful ways or charge unreasonably high fees, he said.

The Ministry of Transport in a paper released in 2011 acknowledged the “common phenomenon” of agencies charging extra fees in the name of providing employment opportunities.

This underscores the shortcomings of the government’s current regulatory approach, said Jiang.

With China becoming more internationalised, the government might hopefully open up the hiring market and even let international companies hire directly in the future, Jiang said.

International Labour Organisation’s 2006 Maritime Labour Convention requires recruiting organisations shall charge no fees for providing employment. A 2011 regulation by China’s Ministry of Transport also bans this practise.

Chinese seafarers on vessels with international routes, including cruises, totalled almost 500,000 in 2016.