Luxury Hotels exploiting workers through wage theft
By Shanna Reeder, National Hotels Organiser for Unite Union
Unite Union has been uncovering dodgy dealings in some of New Zealand’s most luxurious hotels.
For the past four years, Unite has been investigating a number of well-known hotel brands for a practice known as the "credit system," whereby hotel housekeepers (known these days as Room Attendants) are being paid per room.
The "credit system" is based on an American system and is supposed to be used to give each Room Attendant a measure of their performance by telling them how much time they have to clean a room basing it on a mathematical equation. The number of "credits" equals the number of minutes supposedly spent cleaning each room.
Why the hotels choose to use a system of‘"credits" instead of just giving a time per room is not clear, but unfortunately the effect it is having on many Housekeepers in this country’s finest hotels is clear, many of these workers are spending part of their day working for free. Their wages are being stolen by their employers.
It works like this, at the end of each day’s work, when a Room Attendant has cleaned all the rooms, they fill out their timesheet with the time they started work, so far so good.
However, when they fill out their timesheet at the end of the day, they are not actually writing their actual finish time. Instead, they are being told to write an earlier time down (based on the credit system,) resulting in them not being paid for all of the hours that they work.
Unite has uncovered at least six well-known brand name hotels using this practise. In every case the Room Attendants had an employee agreement stating they were paid per hour. In every case the employees were not actually being paid per room but in effect per room on a piecemeal rate.
Unite believes the hotels using this practice are breaking the law. Every time we have challenged the practice we have won, and, in some cases, our members have been re-paid thousands of dollars that they lost over time. It is a challenge as often hotel staff have been paid under this system for a long time, and they have been indoctrinated over time to think it is legal, however, we have spent the last four years educating hotel workers otherwise and subsequently solved this problem in many hotels. However, we are still hearing weekly about other hotels who use this practice, so we will most likely be focusing on this for another couple of years with a view to completely stepping out the practice and winning back the lost wages those employees are owed. These are four and five star hotels who have Managers and Human Resources Departments, they know what they are doing, and they know it is wrong.
Unite Union warns any hotel still using the credit system to pay their employees to cease immediately. All hotel workers should be vigilant about recording their actual hours of work on their timesheets, and to report all uses of the credit system for filling out timesheets to the union office immediately.