by Paul Garver
In Lahore, Pakistan, 55 housekeepers make up 600 rooms at the five star Pearl Continental Hotel. Only 17 of the 55 housekeepers are permanent. Only one of the 17 permanent workers is a women and another 12 women are employed on a precarious basis.
During their shift housekeepers are only allowed a 30 minute “free lunch”. It is the only break in 10 hours. While working 10 hour shifts alone every day, handling loaded trolleys weighing in excess of 50 kilograms, women housekeepers face a range of serious health, safety and security issues. Even after working for 5 to 10 years the legal minimum wage of PKR 12,000 (USD 117) per month is the maximum wage for precarious women housekeepers.
On learning about the IUF’s Global Housekeeping Campaign for housekeepers’ dignity, a woman housekeeper said: “After learning about the IUF Global Campaign for Housekeepers I now believe as housekeepers we will be able to live a better and decent life too.”
Hidden within magnificent luxury hotels as well as more modest establishments throughout the world,
housekeepers are the foundation of the hospitality business. Yet for all the skill and hard work they bring to guests and employers, their contribution is scandalously undervalued. Housekeepers are now challenging their invisible status, speaking out against abusive working conditions and calling on the global hotel industry to recognize their contribution and their rights. From December 3-10, hotel housekeepers in more than 25 countries around the world are holding a Global Week of Action to highlight their situation and to demand a safe, secure working environment from a global industry which rests on their efforts. “The campaign puts the reality of the sector up front, on the table”, tells Kelly from Argentina, who has
been working as a housekeeper for 18 years.
Housekeepers perform exhausting daily tasks for low pay and little or no employment
security. The vast majority are women, often migrants. Their vulnerability exposes
them to a multitude of health, safety and security risks: risks to their bodies from
repetitive, heavy tasks, sexual abuse, exploitation by unscrupulous employers who
often fiercely resist union organization, outsourcing schemes that shield employers
from responsibility and further degrade working conditions and insufficient or totally
lacking legal and social security. Few guests would imagine that housekeepers have
one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and sickness of any occupational
group. “I am already stressed before I start working, since I don’t know how many
rooms and beds are expected to be cleaned”, reports Sofie from Sweden, 29 years
old. I never know if I have time to take my break because I can only get to it all if I
skip my break.”
The week of activities, organized through the IUF’s ‘Make up my workplace!’
campaign for healthy, safe and dignified working conditions for housekeepers will
culminate in an international press conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil on December
12th, where images from the week will be displayed and housekeepers will tell their
stories of work and struggle.
“The campaign has made me aware that the pain I feel in my body is not a personal matter but a workplace issue”, says a South African housekeeper. Their hopes and their determination to fight for change are echoed by housekeepers around the world. “The hotel companies want to deliver five-star service with two star jobs. At my hotel, we all got together and joined the union and that has made all the difference. Room attendants need to stand together around the world so that, together, we can fulfil our dreams for ourselves and our families”, says Josie, 37, from Canada.
Housekeepers at American five-star hotels face the same challenges. Housekeepers at the Harvard University-owned Doubletree Suites hotel recently went on strike for union recognition and the right to bargain for better conditions.