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Hazards photofile, issue 132, October-December 2015
IUF campaign: ‘Make my workplace safe’ say hotel housekeepers
When you return to your hotel room after a meeting or sightseeing, you find your room clean and tidy. But the room doesn’t sort itself during your absence, say Massimo Frattini of IUF, the global union for the sector. It is the work of a hotel housekeeper, usually alone, cleaning your room at breakneck speed along with 20 others like it.

For a hotel housekeeper, daily tasks include cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets, making beds, polishing mirrors, topping up personal hygiene and beverage supplies and emptying the rubbish. All this for low pay and with little or no employment security.

The work exposes housekeepers to multiple hazards – repetitive strain and heavy lifting injuries, chemicals in cleaning products, sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse. Hotel housekeepers, overwhelmingly women and often migrant workers, have one of the highest rates of work-related injuries and sickness of any occupational group. Occupational health and safety inspection in hotels is rare to non-existent.

International studies conducted by the Transnational Development Clinic at Yale Law School and the Labor Law Clinic at Cornell University Law School show that national laws, though crucially important to keep hotel housekeepers safe, are not enough.  In a highly globalised industry, domestic legislation must be backed up by global standards that apply across hotel chains, irrespective of who owns them. So, in 2013, the IUF launched the ‘Make my workplace safe’ initiative to engage hotel companies and institutions in developing new ways of working to prevent workers being physically and psychologically injured.

FLASH MOPS Many hotel workers’ unions quickly signed up to IUF’s global ‘Make my workplace safe’ campaign, committing to organising at the workplace, national and global level. IUF said it became quickly apparent that improving workers’ health and safety was the best way for hotel unions to recruit more members, become better organised and to empower members to negotiate better working conditions.

NO RESERVATIONS  A first IUF global action week was organised in December 2014 and the second ran from 4-11 November 2015. Hotel workers around the world took part in protests, flash mobs and other activities to highlight the abusive, unacceptable working conditions of housekeeping staff and to demand a safe, secure working environment from a global industry which profits from their efforts.


VISIBLE RESULTS The abuse of hotel workers is no longer hidden behind closed doors. IUF’s high profile campaign has caught the attention of the media, regulators and the major hotel chains. And there have been significant gains. In India, for example, unions developed more confidence to challenge hotel management. And in the Philippines, NUWHRAIN members at Sofitel and Holiday Inn in Manila succeeded in eliminating room quotas and limiting shifts to 8 hours. A group of casual housekeeper employees were moved to permanent contracts with more conversions to permanent status on the way.


ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT Simple solutions make the work safer and healthier  - housekeepers working in pairs to share workloads, varying tasks to minimise the risk of injuries and sexual harassment, reducing the number of rooms to be cleaned and having health and safety committees to negotiate improvements with employers.


STAINS AND STRAINS As well as constant lifting, bending and a frantic work pace, hotel workers face exposure to toxic cleaning products and body fluids, and harassment from management and clients.


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The work exposes housekeepers to multiple hazards – repetitive strain and heavy lifting injuries, chemicals in cleaning products, sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse. 

Find out more
You can support the IUF campaign on the global union’s ‘Dignity for Hotel Housekeepers’ Facebook group. #makemyworkplacesafe

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