HOTEL housekeepers have chosen today’s 151st birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, the country’s working class and revolutionary hero, as the launch pad for the Philippine leg of the global campaign for the rights, dignity and safe work of most housekeeping staff who are overworked, underpaid, abused and trapped in an unending contractual status.
Dubbed “Make Up My Workplace,” this initiative was started last year by the global union IUF because of the worsening plight of hundreds of thousands of housekeepers – majority are women and many are migrants – in the booming hotel industry around the world.
Despite their pivotal role in this sector, hotel housekeepers are described by the IUF as the “unseen victims of working conditions” that later “forced them to prematurely” quit work “with broken bodies, condemned to poverty.”
The IUF explained that “housekeeping in hotels and cleaning … (are) often described as ‘unskilled’ (which) apparently justifies relatively lower wages. Yet housekeepers work lifting heavy loads (regularly lifting king-sized and larger mattresses on their own); work within strict time limits (15 minutes to clean a room and in some cases 12 minutes); meeting quotas of the number of rooms cleaned each shift (on average 15 and as high as 30); using toxic chemicals and cleaning solvents; operating commercial sized vacuum cleaners; while carrying out 10 to 15 different cleaning tasks in one shift.”
NUWHRAIN, the hotel workers’ federation, added that ignoring the occupational safety and health standards (OSHS) for housekeepers are detrimental to the workers which may lead to injury at work or disability.
For instance, some hotels do not have trolleys forcing the housekeepers to carry heavy linens, towels and others causing back pain, slip disc, joint and knee problems, NUWHRAIN said.
It added that the hotels’ “closed door” policy and requiring chambermaids to wear miniskirts while cleaning the room may make them vulnerable to sexual harassment if not outright assaults from some guests.
Looking down on the value of work of the housekeepers (as merely auxiliary or non-essential) and at the same time to amass bigger profits, hotel employers – led by the global hotel chains – resort to contracting out housekeeping services from outsourcing firms, NUWHRAIN revealed.
Thus, a NUWHRAIN study showed that housekeepers with regular or permanent employment comprised only of less than 20 percent of the total number of housekeepers in all 5-star international hotel chains in Metro Manila.
The IUF further reported that the “disregard for the value of work of housekeepers, combined with the lower wages of precarious workers, leads to increased workloads and reduced staffing. Increasingly (they) work alone with excessive workloads and unsafe conditions. Many … report sexual harassment and intimidation increased as a result of working alone. One major international hotel chain even abolished carts for housekeepers in Manila. They must carry all of the cleaning materials and tools in a bag on their backs.”
Included in this global campaign are the demands for the ILO (International Labor Organization), the UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization), the national governments, and hotel companies to promptly address these issues and concerns of the housekeepers in the hospitality industry.
Foremost of these demands are the regularization of employment of housekeepers, strict observance of OSHS, wages and benefits befitting their permanent work status, clear measures to prevent sexual harassments in workplaces, among others.
NUWHRAIN is the National Union of Workers in Hotel, Restaurant and Allied Industries, which is affiliated to the IUF and the national labor center SENTRO (Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa). The Geneva-based IUF is the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations.