Shocked Channel 4 Dispatches viewers have been contacting Unite today (February 13) following the investigative documentary report last night (February 12) after Dispatches lifted the lid on worker abuse at the Premier Inn hotel chain last evening – demanding the chain ‘cleans up its act.’
Unite has called on Premier Inn’s owner Whitbread, to end exploitative work practices and its ‘work until you drop’ culture. The union is campaigning for better treatment of workers at Premier Inn’s 760 UK hotels and for the hotel chain to recognise Unite and allow workers access to a trade union.
The Dispatches programme, Undercover in Premier Inn, highlighted how staff are not being paid for all the hours they work, as well as being under continual pressure to hit punishing and unrealistic productivity targets.
“Dispatches has lifted the lid on Premier Inn’s exploitative work practices, with many of its findings echoing what we have been told by the hotel chain’s workers,” said Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy.
“The work until you drop culture, unremitting pressure on workers to hit unrealistic productivity targets, combined with staff not being paid for all the hours worked, are work practices you’d expect to find in a sweat shop not a leading hotel chain.”
Both viewers and Unite members have been signing Unite’s petition calling on Premier Inn’s owner, Whitbread to clean up its act.
‘Terrified to say no’
The signatories have included former Premier Inn workers. Sharlene* writes, “I worked for Premier Inn and the treatment was awful. I felt like a slave, terrified to say no to double shifts and sick cover. Working 16 hours a day with eight hours in between shifts is no way to live. No on call allowance or company phone but the expectation you would be available 24/7 365 days a year.
“I was close to a mental breakdown so I left. I was a member of management. It is widespread throughout the company. They push you till you break then just find someone to replace you.”
The programme focused on the 20 minutes time limit cleaners had to clean a room. Petition signatory Finn* says, “As an employee of Premier Inn I have seen room cleaning target times drop from 27 minutes to 20, resulting in severe corner cutting, housekeeping tasks being given to reception and management staff in order to barely meet minimum standards, at the sacrifice of customer service, safety and security.”
And shockingly, when cleaner Carlos*, “found the dead body of a guest, I wasn’t offered any time off – apparently I had to ask.”
Warning of reputational damage to its business, Unite has called on Whitbread to change its business model which drives the supply of its housekeeping staff and to clean up its act by treating workers properly.
“Revelations such as these can cause severe reputational damage,” says Rhys McCarthy. “This is at odds with Premier Inn’s brand image as a family friendly hotel chain. Customers will expect better.”
And it seems from Unite’s petition signatories the hotel-using public are indeed having second thoughts about spending time and money at the chain.
Sarah* says, “I’ve stayed in Premier Inns in the past – but won’t be doing so again – until they pay good wages, stop intimidation about trade unions and treat the people who make the huge profits for them with respect.”
Not allowing workers access to trade union representation has struck a chord. Ben* like many believes Premier Inn has to change its ways. He says, “I’m totally against the exploitation of fellow workers – particularly by big organisations who can well afford to pay decent wages and provide sensible and decent working conditions.
“I have used these in the past and recently, but won’t be using Premier Inn until this is resolved.”
‘Scared’ and ‘intimidated’
Despite not being recognised by Premier Inn, Unite does have members working for the chain. In their own words they are ‘scared’ and intimidated’:
“I’m scared of being sacked if I don’t come in at short notice or work over my shift.”
“They pay me less than the hours I work.”
“We were told not to talk about trade unions with each other so it’s hard to get people to do stuff because they feel so intimidated. There’s lots of bullying going on too.”
“I’m paid under £9 an hour and I’m really struggling to pay my rent.”
“We’re now all working six days a week with double shifts, back to back. Start at 7 am – finish at 11 pm.”
It is clear Premier Inn has to change. Unite believes it must start abiding by its own human rights policy by allowing employees workplace access to trade unions and allowing them to join one.
“Whitbread can stamp out these exploitative employment practices in an instance should it choose to do so,” believes McCarthy.
“It should also ensure that the workers can form a union. What good is Whitbread’s human rights policy if the chain won’t even recognise the workers’ union, Unite?” he asks.
Sign the Unite petition here
Join Unite here
*Names changed to protect privacy