Several of the UK’s largest hotel companies have dismissed suggestions that the sub-contracting of housekeeping services by agencies has led to the exploitation and abuse of staff in London hotels.
Hilton Worldwide, the InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), Travelodge and Premier Inn, who all outsource some of their housekeeping, were responding to allegations, made at a parliamentary reception, that many housekeepers who are recruited by agencies to work within the capital’s hotels are often expected to work for less than the minimum wage.
Kevin Curran of the hotel workers branch of the Unite union claimed that in some hotels housekeepers were expected to clean a minimum of 16 rooms during their eight-hour shift. If they are unable to complete the quota – often without taking any breaks during the day – they are expected to stay on to finish the job with no extra pay. As a result, the workers, who are largely being paid minimum wages, are, in effect, working for less than the minimum wage.
As a result of long hours and undertaking hard physical work, Curran explained that many housekeepers were "suffering from ill health, often with back and shoulder problems and mental health issues because they are unable to spend any time with their children."
Hosted by Labour MP John Cryer, the meeting heard that a survey carried out by Unite showed that 84 out of 100 housekeepers were taking painkillers before they went to work, while many believed that they would be unable to carry on working beyond the age of 50 because of stress.
Also speaking at the meeting, Joanna Ewart-James of Staff Wanted Initiative (SWI), set up by the Institute for Human Rights and Business (IHRB) and Anti-Slavery International, explained that housekeepers were vulnerable because "many are migrant workers who often lack knowledge of their rights, have little cultural awareness and a language barrier".
Curran said that many hoteliers believed that because they were not employing the housekeepers directly they were not responsible for their welfare.
"We are very keen to talk to scrupulous employers who want to see a change," he explained. "But at the moment they won’t talk to us."
Premier Inn was the only hotel group which would discuss the number of bedrooms housekeepers were expected to clean, saying that, in agreement with the agencies, an experienced room attendant would clean an average of 14 rooms per shift, with a new attendant being given six to eight rooms.
Mike Reilly, director of human resources, UK & Ireland managed operations, IHG, said that agency staff were included within the commitment the company made last year to become a London Living Wage employer, which would ensure all workers were paid above the National Minimum Wage.
He said the number of rooms housekeepers cleaned during a shift was driven by the length of the shift. "If we were made aware of any concerns we would discuss the matter with the agencies and, if necessary, invoke financial penalties for non-compliance to our supplier agreements."
Hilton Worldwide said that it took its responsibilities for the 14,500 people employed at its 112 hotels across the country very seriously.
"At any hotels where the outsourcing of housekeeping is undertaken, we conduct a thorough procurement review process and we require all suppliers to fully comply with all employment laws and regulations," a spokesperson said.
At Premier Inn, where only 20% of all housekeeping services across its 650 hotels, are provided by agencies, a hotel services manager is responsible for ensuring that agencies pay the National Minimum Wage, provide uniforms to staff and that pay is not linked to the provision of accommodation.
Agencies that failed to comply could have their contracts terminated, a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Travelodge said that it worked with three contract cleaning companies at 200 out of its 528 hotels and that agreements were in place that they must pay the National Minimum Wage and adhere to the correct Right to Work process.
"As part of our due diligence, we undertake comprehensive annual audits and hold regular review meetings to ensure that these terms and conditions are being met," said Jon Hendry Pickup, chief operating office of Travelodge.
● SWI has published a set of guidelines advising hotels on how they can protect their businesses from unscrupulous agencies by applying the "scrutinise, engage, ensure" formula. Details are available from www.staff-wanted.org.By Janet Harmer
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