Call for hotels to respect employees’ human rights

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Hotels must protect workers' rights

A report has said that hotels in London need to do more to protect employees’ basic human rights.

The report by the UK’s largest trade union – Unite – has called for all London hotels to adopt a set of city-wide principles which will respect the right of employees to join a union, ensure the health and safety of all employees is respected, and ensure the promotion of zero tolerance of workplace bullying.

These principles were among the basic human rights and fair labour practices identified by the International Tourism Partnership during a stakeholder engagement exercise two years ago. Health and safety and labour rights were identified as top issues industry stakeholders felt hoteliers needed to address. During the stakeholder event union representatives and other interested parties said the key to protecting workers’ human rights was ensuring fair pay, hours and contracts, the opportunity to develop skills and progress within the company, and the ability to access labour representation or feedback to management.

Now, in a strongly worded report called ‘Unethical London’, Unite has claimed that most of the capital’s hotels are not following this advice. It says that low pay and exploitative work practices are evidence of the industry paying “only lip service to workers’ basic human and trade union rights”.

Peter Kavanagh, Unite London regional secretary, urged every London hotel owner to read the report, saying “The London hotel sector is failing its workforce. Low pay, zero hour contracts and open hostility to trade unions have become standard practice, making London one of the most unethical tourist destinations in the world.”

The report quotes hotel staff who said they are “destroyed” by long working hours. One housekeeper said her job was akin to “slavery”, while a chef said, “I am so tired of 16 to 18 hour days, seven days a week and zero appreciation from my employer.”

Unite is calling on all London hotels to adopt a set of principles which will respect the right of employees to join a union, ensure the health and safety of all employees is protected and ensure the promotion of zero tolerance of workplace bullying. The union would also like to engage in a dialogue with hotels on the phasing in of the London Living Wage as a minimum standard for all employees.

The union has also written to London Mayor Sadiq Khan urging him to put his ‘economic fairness’ pledge at the top of his agenda. They called on all members of the London Assembly to promote bold leadership and the adoption of ‘city-wide principles’ to deal with the alleged low cost, exploitative business model they claim are used by global hotel chains. The sector employs an estimated 100,000 people in the capital.

The proposed principals are based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines, the Ethical Trading Initiative Base Code and the United Nations Global Compact.

The London Living Wage, which currently stands at £9.40 an hour, is not compulsory. It stands at a higher rate than the National Living Wage, which was introduced in April at £7.20 per hour for all employees aged 25 and over, and is due to rise to £9 by 2020.

A spokesperson for the British Hospitality Association said, “Where paying the London Living Wage is suitable and feasible for businesses, they may choose to pay. Some hotels have adopted the London Living Wage and others cannot and have not. This is no different to other industries operating in London.”

Unite regional officer Dave Turnbull said, “[It’s time for the industry] to start listening to our members, the hidden army of cleaners, porters, receptionists and room attendants who have painted a very bleak picture of working conditions in London’s hotels. “The reality is that the hotel industry is failing its 100,000 strong-workforce. Low pay, insecure working, exploitation and institutionalised bullying are rife. It cannot recruit and retain the type of workers it needs based on its flawed, low cost and exploitative business model.  “Workers must be part of the conversation which needs to take place within hospitality. Strong trade unions and respect from employers for the human right of freedom of association must be at the heart of this. “We are calling on the mayor and London Assembly members from all four parties to get behind our city-wide principle initiative, to put pressure on the global chains to start engaging with Unite. A truly ethical capital city and successful hospitality sector can only be built on respect.”

Unethical London, written by members of Unite's hospitality sector, exposes the low pay and working conditions in London’s hotel sector, using the stories of London’s mainly migrant hotel workers in their own words. The hospitality sector is the UK’s fourth largest employer, representing 10 per cent of the UK workforce. The union suggests London’s average room price is £160 per night, up 7.3 per cent in the last year.

ITP also advocates for fair labour practices which are part of global human rights. We work with our members to help them understand and enshrine fair labour standards within their businesses. Hotels need to understand that policies set at corporate level are not always followed through at property level, so they need to be backed up with monitoring protocols to ensure workers’ rights are respected and protected. There are a range of free resources for guidance.

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