Housekeeper pay scandal: agencies accused of not paying staff for training

Following revelations from last week’s Dispatches Premier Inn documentary, further examples of poor pay and working conditions for agency housekeepers have been revealed. Katherine Price investigates.

Some housekeeping staff provided by agencies are not being paid for the training days they work at hotels, it has been revealed.

Several anonymous sources have raised concerns with The Caterer regarding housekeeper pay and conditions.

While it is usual practice for agencies to cover the cost of two to three training days, in some cases this is not happening and the hotels involved are failing to ensure that payments are being made.

As a result, staff may be paid under the National Living Wage due to the missed training payments.

A spokesperson for the five-red-AA-star, 250-bedroom Dorchester hotel on London’s Park Lane confirmed that, following The Caterer’s enquiries, the hotel has reviewed the arrangements it has with all the agencies with which it works and discovered one agency was not paying staff for training days undertaken at the property. The hotel has revised its terms with the agency in question and ensured a back payment to the workers affected.

The spokesperson said: “It is part of our commercial arrangement with our agencies that they meet the agency workers’ rate while they are being trained at the Dorchester. Time sheets are submitted to the agencies to provide payment for this training. The fair treatment of our staff, including agency workers, is a top priority for the hotel.”

An anonymous industry source said that agencies often tell the housekeepers they place that they will have to wait for three months before they can get paid.

“As most don’t last three months, many are never paid. It is ironic that this is happening in an industry that struggles to attract and retain staff,” the source said.

Although the liability lies with the agencies to pay staff, it is deemed good practice for hotels to perform due diligence and ensure temporary staff are paid correctly – as properties could suffer reputational damage should a case come to court.

Fair treatment of staff
All other hotels contacted by The Caterer confirmed that checks were carried out to ensure housekeeping staff are paid correctly.

Managing director of the 252-bedroom the Ned hotel in the City of London, Gareth Banner, said the hotel has a written contract with agencies that states staff must be paid at least the National Living Wage, what the cost is to the hotel and how much of this is passed on to the workers. In its contract with KMS, the agency pays for the first two to three training days undertaken by housekeepers.

“We vet our agencies closely,” said Banner. “If I ever found that a member of staff who was working at the Ned, albeit via an agency, was not being paid at least the National Living Wage, then my relationship with that agency would end immediately.”

The Arora Group, which operates nine hotels including the 453-bedroom InterContinental London – the O2, has contractual arrangements in place with third-party housekeeping agencies requiring them to pay their housekeepers for every hour and every day worked in relation to initial training, and has engaged an external audit and compliance company to ensure these obligations are being met.

A spokesperson for the 85-bedroom Hari hotel in London confirmed it is standard practice for the agency it works with to pay for housekeeper training. “As we have contracts in place we expect the agencies to fully comply with the conditions of the contract and pay the agency employees in the agreed manner,” she said.

Of the agencies The Caterer contacted, KMS confirmed it pays workers for training and staff receive this payment in their first pay cheque.

Stephen Kyjak-Lane, a director at Summit Recruitment, said it depends on the individual contract, but whether Summit or the hotel is covering workers’ training pay, staff always get paid. Human One said it pays workers for training after 12 weeks.

A number of other agencies contacted declined to comment.

The law
Clare Gilroy-Scott, an employment lawyer and partner with Goodman Derrick, says training time is working time and the National Minimum Wage applies to training for agency workers as well as employees, whether the training takes place in the hotel or elsewhere. Under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, agencies are liable to pay workers for their hours, regardless of whether they are paid by the client hotel or not.

Unite officer Dave Turnbull said the union had evidence of housekeepers not being paid for their training days “on many, many occasions”.

“They get paid, but it’s taken back from them when they leave. Agencies count on people not challenging it. They bank on people not understanding their rights, and a lot of people leave quickly because the amount of rooms they’re being asked to clean is just not tenable.”

He pointed to the process of hotels being invoiced by the number of rooms cleaned rather than the number of employees or hours as driving agencies and staff to cut corners, resulting in Living Wage abuses.

“Hotels have got to ensure people, whether they’re being sub-contracted or not, are being treated properly,” he added.

Housekeeping experts said it is good practice for at least one person within a hotel to be responsible for ensuring agencies are paying staff the National Living Wage for all hours worked, with regular audits and meetings to ensure the correct conditions are met.

They also recommended HR managers talk with agency staff directly to discuss their working conditions.


Housekeeping expert says training is key following Premier Inn documentary allegations
Housekeeping managers and supervisors need to take responsibility for best practice being carried out by housekeepers, both in-house and agency staff, said a leading expert in the field.

The advice comes from hotel consultant Liz Smith-Mills following the furore after the screening of an episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, in which a housekeeper at Premier Inn London Bridge was seen using the same dirty towel, discarded by a guest, to clean the entire bathroom, including the sink, bath and toilet.

Premier Inn has launched an investigation into the practices undertaken by housekeepers supplied by facilities management company ISS.

The programme also claimed staff were expected to work additional, unpaid hours to meet targets and had to sign a document saying that they had taken a 30-minute break, even if work pressures prevented them from doing so.

The allegations were made after an undercover reporter joined the hotel’s housekeeping team as an employee of ISS.

A spokesperson for Whitbread-owned Premier Inn said that it took the programme’s allegations very seriously: “We have strict cleaning procedures and training, and the times we allocate to room cleaning have been proven over many years. We do not set a target of three rooms cleaned per hour.”

Premier Inn also rejected the suggestion that undue pressure was put on the housekeeping teams and highlighted that all team members are paid the National Living Wage or above, as well as offering “industry-leading training and development”.

A spokesperson for ISS said that it has taken immediate steps to investigate the allegations.

The company said: “We have performed internal and external investigations to analyse the alleged issues at our customer’s site. We pride ourselves on the high levels of training we give staff at all levels within our business to ensure they can do their jobs properly and within their scheduled working hours.”

Smith-Mills, a member of the P&G Professional Advisory Council and Catey Housekeeper of the Year 1991, said the targets of rooms to be cleaned by housekeepers when contracts are being negotiated often don’t allow for necessary aspects of the job, including vacuuming corridors, setting up trolleys and guest interaction. Even the fabrics and furnishings used in a room will affect the time it takes to clean it.

“Until somebody gets into the room and sees what condition it has been left in, nobody can say how long it’s going to take to clean,” she said, and emphasised the importance of allowing outsourced staff to attend the same training as in-house staff to ensure best practice is taken on board.

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