The cruise industry has refuted claims that it is ignoring the welfare of staff, a week after crew members on board an MSC ship were rescued from “slave-like” conditions.

MSC denied allegations that staff were forced to work for up to 16 hours a day, after its ship, the Magnifica, was boarded by officials from the Brazilian Labour Ministry in Salvador, where it had docked for a day.

Some staff had also reported allegations of sexual harassment, according to a report by the BBC.

But MSC Cruises rejected the labour ministry’s claims and said its four ships operating in Brazil had passed intensive and repeated inspections by the ministry. It said it is fully complying with Brazilian and international labour regulations.

Further criticism of the cruise industry however came in the form of a report published this month by academics at Leeds Metropolitan University. It referred to evidence from 2010 that found that the rights of disadvantaged groups were being frequently violated in terms of the work they were given and the salary they were paid, based on their to nationality and cultural background.

It also said that cruise companies had provided little information as to how they were going to implement new regulations brought in by the Maritime Labour Convention last year, which cover the management of recruitment agencies, hours of work and rest and the written confirmation of contractual conditions – aspects of working life that many outside the cruising industry take for granted.

Cruise companies could be doing more to assess environmental issues too, the report suggested, by reporting on their impact on the coastal water and marine ecosystems of the destinations they visit.

But a spokeswoman for CLIA UK defended the industry and said the report was “deeply disappointing” and “seriously flawed”, with “inaccuracies and subjective commentary which fly in the face of the facts of the achievements that the cruise industry delivers throughout the world.”

“The cruise industry is highly regulated on an international basis to exacting standards towards both the environment and labour welfare,” she said. “In both areas we go above and beyond those high thresholds to enable our 21 million annual global customers to enjoy the seas in which they cruise and be cared and looked after by a motivated and content workforce.

“We put great store into our social responsibilities and we make an enormously positive impact on national economies all around the world, to the tune of £31billion a year in Europe. A recent study also shows cruising contributes £60 billion to the global economy, supports more than 775,000 jobs, and pays £20 billion in wages.”

A Dispatches news programme attacked the cruise industry over the employment rights of staff in 2012 . The documentary focused on the working conditions of staff on board the chip Celebrity Eclipse. It revealed that many of the ship’s staff receive less than half the UK national minimum wage, with some of the lowest-paid workers earning just $600 (£375) per month, the equivalent of around £1.30 an hour, and received no gratuities.

Members of staff claimed they were required to work seven days a week for months on end without rest days, while others alleged that they were forced to pay expensive fees to recruitment agencies to obtain their jobs.

A Celebrity Cruises spokesman said that the Channel 4 programme had been “biased and unbalanced”, however. He added that the cruise line was “committed to our employees, both shipboard and shoreside”, adding that it operated “within the letter of the law”.

Tags: brazil, labor, msc
Photo Credit: The MSC Magnifica in Marmais, Turkey. Klaus Ottes / Flickr