I have suffered chemical abrasion on the hands, inhalation of toxic fumes such as phosphoric acid, falls, bruises and injuries due to lack of safety materials, weeks of working six days and 13 uninterrupted hours due to “work circumstances”. This period has been, without any doubt, the worst work and physical experience of my entire life.
Interview, Spanish Kitchen/Catering Assistant, 17 May 2019
Today FLEX publishes a new report on the experiences of workers in the UK hospitality sector. “To help workers, I would tell the Government to…” Participatory Research with Workers in the UK Hospitality Sector is the second in a series of working papers on the experiences and drivers of labour abuse and exploitation in three understudied low-paid sectors of the economy: cleaning, hospitality and the app-based courier sector. It highlights key workplace issues in the hospitality sector and the factors that increase the risk of workers experiencing employment rights violations. The first working paper in the series, on the cleaning sector, was published in January and is available here.
This working paper series uses a feminist participatory action research approach which involves workers at every stage of the research process, from design to data collection and analysis. This participatory methodology has enabled workers to shape the research findings and recommendations, including workers who are at high-risk of exploitation but less frequently represented in policy research, such as undocumented migrants, people who do not speak English, and those who work long and unsociable hours. By involving workers from some of the most at-risk groups, this report brings the voices of people with lived experience to the forefront and includes their perspectives in the policymaking process.
Our research found hospitality to be a high-risk sector for labour abuse and exploitation, with workers who responded to our survey* reporting the following:
We also found that the likelihood of workers experiencing the above issues was impacted by factors including:
The findings from our research show the scope and nature of the issues workers in hospitality are experiencing. Many of our research participants described hospitality as a sector broken beyond repair, urging people to “get out while they can”, and feeling as though there are too many problems to fix.
As a result of the pandemic, many have already left the sector. Repeated shutdowns have led to mass redundancies, and workers who have succeeded in finding alternative employment are reluctant to return. Hospitality businesses across the country are now struggling to recruit workers back into jobs offering low pay, long hours, and insecurity. As the sector continues to reopen, employers should consider how they can build back better after Covid, establishing higher standards and offering better contracts and decent terms and conditions to attract workers back into their old jobs. Hospitality employers in the US, who are similarly struggling to fill vacancies post-Covid, are already increasing wages and providing better benefits in the hope of hiring and, crucially, retaining more staff.
Sustainable changes to the sector will also require government action. Concrete, meaningful steps are needed, like the proactive enforcement of labour standards, especially those related to pay, workplace violence and other health and safety matters; ensuring access to adequate sick pay; mitigating the vulnerabilities created by insecure immigration and employment statuses; and introducing regulations to limit the abuse of flexible contracts and the negative impacts of outsourcing on workers. Without regulation and enforcement, good employers will be undercut by those willing to skirt the rules and abuse workers’ vulnerabilities. Workers involved in the research called for the government to:
Put a stop to zero-hours contracts, [improve] the pay in the sector, [and provide] additional help for people who struggle with mental health.
Survey response, UK Chef
They should inspect housekeeping work, many abuses are committed in all hotels, there’s a lot of workload pressure and they do not pay for hours but for rooms that we clean and its mostly agencies that carry it.
Survey response, Peruvian Room Attendant
It is crucial that the solutions taken forward to address labour abuses and risk of exploitation in hospitality are informed by those most affected by them. Workers have a wealth of knowledge and insight about the factors contributing to and driving labour exploitation in the hospitality sector, and we hope that by throwing light on these matters we will start to see meaningful change on the ground.
Read the full report here.
This project is supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.
* The survey ran in five languages (English, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish) and reached 115 participants from 26 different nationality groups. Migrants accounted for 96% of respondents.