Tales of bullying and exploitation of employees in the hotel industry are highlighted in a new graphically illustrated novel published by the UK’s largest trade union, Unite.
Tale of Two Cities was commissioned by the union, which represents hospitality workers, as a recruitment tool to reach out to what it describes as “a marginalised workforce”, who often do not speak English and know very little of their employment rights.
The graphic novel is called Tale of Two Cities in order to draw a direct comparison with New York, where the hotel sector is over 80% unionised. Dave Turnbull, Unite regional officer, said that hotel workers in New York are paid three times more than their London counterparts.
“It is our aim to get UK hotel workers organised and part of a union so that they too can get better, fairer deal at work,” he explained.
Written and illustrated by artist and former chambermaid Barbara Pokryszka, the novel illustrates exhausted room attendants who are continually shouted at to work faster and clean more bedrooms.
Pokryszka was employed by cleaning contractor WGC from 2008 to 2012, during which time she worked for the Hilton London Metropole. In the introduction to the book, she said that she was “bullied and harassed” as she cleaned at least 15 rooms a day during her time with Hilton.
“The majority of workers were too scared to defend our rights with fear of losing their jobs,” she said. “Myself and some of my workmates tried to defend our rights with some minor success with the help of Unite hotel workers’ branch. After more than four years working at the Hilton without complaint against me, I was suspended, they said for contacting the media. I dispute this and my fight with them goes on.”
A Hilton Worldwide spokesperson responded: “At Hilton Worldwide we select our third-party contractors according to strict quality criteria. We expect and require absolute compliance from these contractors with all applicable employment and labour laws. At Hilton Worldwide we value our team members highly and pride ourselves in treating them with respect. We expect our third-party management companies to do the same for their own employees.”
With regards union recognition within Hilton Worldwide, the spokesperson said the limited union membership among its UK employees is testament to “the effectiveness of our own engagement strategies”.
“Employees from our owned and managed hotels across the UK benefit from a direct and active dialogue with the senior team through regular employee forums via elected representatives. Feedback from these forums is used to support a best-in-class working environment.”
Turnbull said that despite having corporate social responsibility policies respecting the rights of workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining, Hilton Worldwide refuses to have any “constructive dialogue” with trade unions, “We want to use the novel to stimulate that debate further on both sides of the industry.”
Meanwhile, Turnbull said that WGC has given some serious thought to training, health and safety and staff retention issues. “We have particularly welcomed their decision to apply the new £7.20 minimum wage to all of its workforce regardless of age. This non-discriminatory approach is something the rest of the industry would do well to follow.”
Flic Henry, HR director at WGC, added: “WGC has been established for over 40 years and works with integrity and pride and always places its team members’ welfare at the forefront of its activities.
“WGC is actively collaborating with Unite and together are working on a whole range of initiatives. We feel that by embracing Unite’s learning opportunities, it will have benefits for all of our team members.”