By: Shirlee Engel
With the cold weather settling in across Canada, you're probably already planning your winter getaway. With so many hotels to choose from, it usually comes down to star ratings and rave reviews.
But have you ever given any thought to how your hotel of choice treats its housekeepers?
While you lounge on the beach or go on that sightseeing tour, a housekeeper — most likely a woman — is doing backbreaking work to meticulously make your bed, tidy your mess and polish your toilet, all for a meagre paycheck, little job security and a lot of grief.
Consider that it takes a housekeeper in Thailand 14 years to make what a top hotel CEO makes in a single day.
There's something seriously wrong with that picture.
Housekeepers get a dirty deal for your clean room.
This week, Oxfam Canada drew attention to the working conditions for women in the hotel industry in a new report called Tourism's Dirty Secret: The Exploitation of Hotel Housekeepers.
The report details the shocking treatment of housekeepers in Toronto, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and Phuket, Thaliand. From physical injuries, sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation, to unpredictable schedules and low monthly wages, housekeepers get a dirty deal for your clean room.
To give people a taste of what it's like, Oxfam staff and volunteers transformed a busy downtown Toronto corner into an outdoor hotel room, and challenged reporters and passersby to slip into a housekeeper's shoes for a few minutes. They had to perform tasks like tidying up and making the bed in less than five minutes.
In no time, there they were huffing and puffing.
Why this challenge?
The main reason housekeepers sustain so many injuries is the impossible expectations placed upon them to clean a certain number of rooms in their eight-hour shift. They don't get paid overtime if they don't finish their quota, so they work quickly. That makes them prone to slips, falls and repetitive sprain injuries. A survey by UNITE HERE, the union representing housekeepers in North America, found 95 per cent use painkillers to make it through the day.
Add to that contact with hazards such as bodily fluids and toxic chemicals, as well as unwanted advances and even sexual assault by male hotel guests, and it's no wonder so many housekeepers told Oxfam they feel invisible and powerless.
The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way.
You, the consumer, can make choices to ensure your housekeeper is treated and paid fairly.
Oxfam found when women are able to organize and advocate for their rights, they get decent wages and benefits, have greater job security, and experience less stress and fewer injuries.
Here are some simple things you can do to support housekeepers:
- Join a movement of people committed to speaking out against extreme inequality and ensuring the work women do is fairly paid and equally valued. Sign up now at www.shortchanged.ca.
- Use your money wisely: go to www.fairhotel.org for a list of hotels that treat their housekeepers fairly. Choose to stay in unionized hotels whenever possible. If you aren't sure, ask!
- Supportwomen's rights organizations working to increase women's economic security and end violence against women.