Unite, the UK's largest trade union, has accused the capital's hotel industry of "unethical" work practices in a new report.
The 12-page publication Unethical London 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. "The London hotel sector is failing its workforce," he said. "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. "
It quotes hotel staff who are allegedly said to be "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 now calling on 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. 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 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.
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.
Unite is particularly concerned that despite InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), Hilton Worldwide, Carlson Rezidor, Melia and AccorHotels signing up to various ethical social responsibility agreements regarding freedom of association, only IHG and Melia have entered into discussions regarding union access.
It also highlights that IHG has "consistently failed" to deliver on promises and commitments relating to union recognition. In 2012 IHG became one of the first hotel groups to announce that it would introduce the London Living Wage and in response to the Unite report said that it is making "good progress" of putting it in place by the end of 2017.
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."
Despite Hilton Worldwide being accused in the report of failing to respond to Unite's request for establishing a dialogue on union recognition, the company's global code of conduct states it respects the lawful right of its employees to freedom of association .
A spokesperson for Hilton Worldwide told The Caterer: "Hilton maintains a positive dialogue with our team members, which is critical to the success of our business. In the UK we foster this open environment through team member feedback forums, regular surveys and a supportive working environment. As a company, we are fully supportive of the introduction of the National Living Wage."
To mark the launch of the report, Unite hotel worker members will stage a series of protests today (23 August) in London, starting on the South Bank near the London Eye before moving to the Whitbread-owned Premier Inn County Hall. According to a spokesperson for Unite, the Premier Inn was chosen due to the "substantial number" of Unite members within Whitbread and dissatisfaction with its response to requests for talks.
By Katherine Price and Janet Harmer
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