Unite is gearing up to mark Living Wage Week with demos outside two London hotels on Wednesday (November 13) as the union seeks to highlight low pay in the hospitality sector.
The demos, organised by Unite’s hotel workers branch, will take place at two Premier Inn hotels in Holborn and in Islington in the capital from 1pm.
Despite being the country’s largest hotel chain, raking in substantial operating profits of £498m last year, Premier Inn pays most of its staff the minimum wage of just £8.21 an hour.
Meanwhile, Alison Brittan, the ex-banker chief executive of Whitbread, which owns the Premier Inn chain, can make up to £2.3m a year if she achieves her targets – that’s 136 times more than her minimum waged staff.
This week’s demos come as the Living Wage Foundation on Monday (November 11) hiked the ‘real’ Living Wage rate to £9.30 an hour, with the London Living Wage being set at an even higher £10.75 an hour.
Although more than 200,000 workers have benefited from their employers signing up to pay the voluntary Living Wage, there are still more than 5m workers who are paid less than this wage, which the Foundation calculates is the minimum needed to keep up with rising living costs.
The government’s mandatory minimum wage, cynically rebranded the ‘National Living Wage’ falls far below the ‘real’ Living Wage, and is not linked to living costs. For those over the age of 25, the rate is now just £8.21 an hour; for those under age 25, this falls even further to £7.70 an hour.
Unite has spoken to a number of hospitality workers who barely eke out a living on the minimum wage.
Lise*, who works in London as a night receptionist at one of the UK’s most popular hotel chains explained how she was initially hired to do security, minimal cleaning and breakfast set-up.
“In reality I’m expected to clean the entire ground floor, from doors to floors, restaurant and bar,” she said. “I’m even made to serve at the bar and do housekeeping duties too. Soon we may even be made to clean the toilets.
“I’m still waiting for my staff uniform,” Lise went on to say. “It’s been over a year. I don’t think I’ll ever get it and on my wage I can’t afford to buy new clothes to work in. For all of that I get £9.86 an hour. It’s not enough to live on in London.”
Harry*, who worked for five months at a Holiday Inn, said he had a very similar experience to Lise.
“I was hired as a front desk receptionist, but ended up doing everything, from serving at the bar and restaurant to going into rooms and setting up beds,” he said. “It was a ridiculous workload. But, it was my experience of working there every single day.
“I did all of this for a measly £7.86 an hour.”
Dave*, a hotel maintenance technician, reports similarly heavy workloads.
“My job involves keeping three hotels with roughly 200 rooms, two pubs and a meeting building in good decorative and working order,” he said. “I’m paid just £8.66 an hour – so I know all about how hard it is to live on low wages.
“I feel that we don’t get anywhere near the wage we deserve for all the hard work we do.”
Lise, Harry and Dave are among the many hundreds of workers who are joining together under a new Unite London and Eastern branch campaign called ‘Why Not Us?’
The campaign aims to put pressure on low wage employers in Canary Wharf, Heathrow and the capital’s hospitality businesses to get on board with the real Living Wage.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s Premier Inn demo, Unite national officer for hospitality Dave Turnbull said, “We’re calling time on low pay. Workers in Britain’s hospitality sectors are poorly paid, over worked and undervalued. It’s time for this to change.
“Our message to Premier Inn senior management is simple — stop dragging your feet and pay your staff a real Living Wage. Premier Inn ought to be a leader; instead it is a follower of the very worst ‘race to the bottom’ practices.”
Unite has urged all those who can to join us on Wednesday’s (November 13) demo at Premier Inn Holborn, WC1R 4PS and Premier Inn Islington, N1 OPS, both from 1pm.
*Names changed to protect privacy