On a slow boat to Hawaii

Your observer has just returned from a 15-day cruise from San Francisco to Hawaii and back via Mexico.

Most of the crew seen by passengers (housekeeping, food service staff and deck attendants) are from Eastern Europe. South America and Asia.  It appears we get these reasonably priced holidays because the companies are able to employ cheap labor.  There are no labor laws at sea but at least they have jobs.

DSCF5580 I have it in my mind that for crew members the ships are prisons.  Employees are there for up to 10 months at a time, must be on the ship every night and can get off, if at all, only for a few hours at a time.  (Fifteen days was too long for me.)  On a previous cruise a number of workers said they were going to do just one more contract.  We didn’t hear that this time.

The length of contracts varied from six to ten months and appeared to vary according to where the person came from.  People from Eastern Europe appeared to have six month contracts while people from the Philippines are Asian countries were on the ship for 10 months.  No one was able to explain the difference.

At least some of the workers from Eastern Europe had degrees.  Two girls from Ukraine had degrees in international economics.  This world needs people who understand economics more than it needs waitresses or hand washing police.

(With 2,600 passengers and 1,100 crew in a small space hand washing to prevent the spread of disease was very important.  A major concern is the buffet where many people handle the serving utensils.  Therefore a disinfectant station and an attendant were placed at the entrance.  On returning home I read an article about concerns for a world pandemic.  Perhaps we do need more hand washing police.  But do they need to be trained in economics?)

There’s an ancient American law, to protect the railways from competition for passengers, which prevents foreign ships from carrying passengers between American ports.   Therefore our ship stopped for four hours in Ensenada, Mexico.

There are several things which make cruising a nice holiday.

Gambling.  I figure the casino is a form of entertainment and for most people no more expensive than attending a symphony concert.  Even so we tried to avoid walking through the casino.

Food.  There is lots of it, some more healthy than the rest.  The assistant cruise director said the number one thing you don’t hear passengers say is “I am on a diet.”  A guy in the elevator said “I haven’t eaten for an hour.”

Entertainment.  There are lots of games, contests and entertainment.  Many different types of music, much of it too loud for me although the volume was down one notch since last time.  The ventriloquist pointed out the Captain was doing eight wedding vow renewals in one day to which the dummy replied, “I didn’t know they expired”

Socializing.   We enjoyed chatting with strangers at meal time.  Most of the tables were for six and as a lot of people were traveling as couples, a lot meals were shared with others.

Family.  For us it was an opportunity to visit with my step-son and his wife, both of whom are entertainers on the ship. (Their contracts are for five months.)

This was not the holiday we would have chosen for ourselves but we did thoroughly enjoy it.

Fiddlers, venues and copyright

Last night we went to a concert by two Canadian fiddlers –  J.J. Guy from Saskatoon and Gordon Stobe of Nova Scotia.

The unique feature of this concert was that it was for 25 to 30 people in the living and dining rooms of a private home. Not only were the performers mingling with the audience during the intermission but there was also terrific interaction between both groups during the show.

johnny_automatic_3_fiddlers_in_silhouetteAfterwards I asked Gordon  about the difference between this venue and a larger auditorium.  His reply was that he made more money playing to a larger crowd but this was much more enjoyable for him because of the interaction.

Another thing is that these two musicians were making a living out of their music without having to go on the cruise ships.  Even so they do a lot of teaching and they are away from home a lot.  They are making it by being very good and going for a niche in the music industry.  They are probably a lot smarter than those who try to make it in the pop sector.

I also asked about copyright and the music industry.  There have been so many recent changes in the music industry that copyright legislation is mostly irrelevant.  It may be that the future of the music industry is in small venue concerts such as last night.  I hope so and I encourage other people to seek out such concerts.

Regulating the cruise industry

Last week’s floating stool ship has put a little focus on the cruise ship industry and brought forth some suggestions the industry requires more regulation.

It appears that by cruising between international ports the industry has avoided coming under the jurisdiction of any one government.  It also appears to be a highly competitive industry and one that is prospering.  Maybe there is a lesson here about competition and government interference.

johnny_automatic_ocean_linerI have a theory that at the request of business governments pass laws to restrict competition in the belief that there will be greater profits if there is less competition.  Then to control the excesses of monopoly they introduce regulations.    If this is correct an industry in which competition is not restricted has no need for regulations.

It seems to me the cruise ship industry is regulated by its customers.  It is highly competitive and depends very much on returning customers.  These guys have to look after their customers.  If there develops a perception that the Carnival Triumph passengers are not being treated fairly or that ships are not being properly maintained,  the whole industry will probably pay for it.

Employees may not be in such a strong position.  Wages tend to be a function of supply and demand and the cruise companies draw their unskilled employees from the world market.  The companies benefit from world over population.  So  do the passengers whose fare would be quite a bit higher if the ships had to pay all their employees North American wages.  Employees also benefit from higher wages than they would get at home.

We have to note that a lot of companies in North America (and their customers) also benefit from the low wages that go with high unemployment.

One way to deal with the exploitation of labor would be some sort of guaranteed annual income which would make it a little less necessary for workers to accept poor pay or working conditions.

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