Unite celebrated a key victory in the hospitality sector after Marriott International, which owns one of the leading hotel chains in the world, agreed to furlough all 1,500 of its casual workers at the 60 of its managed UK hotels.
After workers organised themselves and challenged their employer through Unite, casual staff as well as the UK hotel chain’s permanent workforce will now benefit from the government’s job retention scheme, where workers who are forced to stop working because of the coronavirus epidemic will have 80 per cent of their wages covered by the state. In exchange, companies must agree to keep their staff on.
It all started when Marriott Hotels sent a letter to more than 1,000 casual staff on April 8 saying that they were ‘yet to determine their position’ on whether they could be furloughed citing ‘significant cash flow issues’ as their justification.
“This is despite government guidelines released on 26 March stating that they absolutely can be furloughed and paid at least 80 per cent of average annual earnings,” explained Unite hospitality organiser Bryan Simpson.
“As the world’s biggest and richest hotel group, it was inconceivably unfair for Marriott to discriminate between permanent and casual staff in this way and then to claim that it didn’t have the money to furlough some of their poorest and most precarious workers, particularly when 80 per cent would be covered by the taxpayer,” he noted.
“Our members agreed and they banded together to organise through their trade union, many for the first time launching a collective campaign to demand 100 per cent wages including conference calls, online actions and a joint letter to the president of Marriott Europe,” Simpson added.
“Marriott may claim that they were always going to furlough their casual workers but it was only after our members collectively demanded furloughment that they capitulated having made them wait a month for wages.”
Casual staff at Marriott Hotels, many of whom had worked regular hours for the chain for many years, were overjoyed at the news and the result they achieved collectively after organising through Unite.
“When I saw that only contracted workers would be getting paid during the original designation of furloughed workers for the Marriott, I was thrown back a bit,” explained Lance, a casual worker at Marriott Hotels.
“I thought that the Marriott didn’t care about casual workers like me, despite government guidelines allowing all workers to be included,” he added. “I’d like to thank Unite Hospitality for supporting us with a platform that allowed us to share our voice collectively. I’d also like to thank everyone who got involved in the union as we worked together to beat discriminatory behaviours from the Marriott.”
Lance’s colleague Emma agreed.
“It was very disappointing to hear that casual workers were being treated differently to the contracted staff, but with the help of Unite Hospitality, Marriott have finally agreed to furlough all casual workers and reinforce their Spirit to Serve mission statement,” she said. “Huge thanks to our union and my colleagues for helping us to achieve this.”
Only the beginning
Unite has said that this stunning victory is only a stepping stone in the fight to achieve more for workers at Marriott Hotels and throughout the hospitality sector.
“While this is a massive victory for our members at Marriott, our campaign for justice doesn’t stop here,” Simpson said, as he called on Marriott to top-up the remaining 20 per cent of wages, including Tronc (tips) and ensure full sick pay for those self-isolating.
Unite officer with national responsibility for the hospitality sector Dave Turnbull agreed – and said there should be no going back to insecure working practices now rife in hospitality after the lockdown ends.
“Unite has been campaigning strongly and lobbying the company hard ‘to do the right thing’ and put all it casual workers, who play such a key part in Marriott’s commercial success, onto the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme,” Turnbull said.
“We welcome this announcement and will be monitoring how this works out in practice for our members in the coming days and weeks and will raise any problems with the Marriott management.
“The situation of these Marriott workers highlights the unnecessary and exploitative nature of zero hour contracts and casualised work,” he added. “Many of our members worked regular hours for many years and legitimately had the right to permanent contracts. Once lockdown is lifted we will be demanding a new deal for hospitality workers which will include an end to the ‘zero hours’ culture.
“This news from Marriott can’t disguise the fact that the hotel and hospitality industry relies heavily on causal staff to keep the industry thriving and there may be some employers who are still not playing by the rules.
“If Unite discovers such cases, we will be raising them with respective managements, without fear or favour.”