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Study calls for more wage increases, job security for women in hotel industry

A new study into pandemic impacts on hotel workers is calling for labour improvements and job security for women, and racialized and immigrant workers.

Conducted between March and May 2023, the study was done by Beyond Recovery, UNITE HERE Local 40 and Simon Fraser University.

It says researchers interviewed 27 employees and all the candidates worked in the accommodation and food services sector. Most of the participants were between 50 and 60 years old, and all of them spoke of job loss, increased workloads and more difficulty making ends meet as hotel processes restructured and the cost of living rose.

The study adds most hotel employees are women and while 47 per cent of all Canadian workers were women in 2020, women accounted for 63 per cent of job loss in 2020.

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It says this is because of pre-pandemic norms and in the same sector women make about $0.89 per dollar a man makes.

The study also found that while many workers were protected from job loss with a collective agreement, moany could only return to their jobs within one year of being laid off. Those who did not have those protections faced even more challenges.

UNITE HERE Local 40 researcher and study co-author Michelle Travis says the most startling thing they found during the interviews was how concerned people were about job security even though the industry has recovered.

“A lot of hotel workers feel like in some ways it has become more precarious,” said Travis. “Right now, we’re seeing the hotel industry doing incredibly well, while a lot of workers feel like they have [not done well].

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“Part of that is due to the hotel industry’s pandemic response. During that period, they laid off and terminated thousands of workers and at some point, large hotel companies acknowledged the pandemic was an opportunity to reset the operating model.”

Travis says this meant lots of cuts in room cleaning and beverage departments and staff are working on an on-call basis. She says this makes workers feel less valued, and what the group wants to see is employees feel valued to keep jobs and have a future.

“Workers who work in the hospitality industry overwhelmingly love working in the industry,” said Travis.

“Regardless of whether it’s primarily women or primarily men, workers want to have a future in the sector, and they want to able to afford a family and [support] themselves.”

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The study has five recommendations for the province to help employees including:

  • Safeguards to the right for recall in case of layoff during health or other emergencies 
  • The province should make sure workers have predictive scheduling that limits on-call scheduling 
  • Increase the minimum wage to a living wage so salaries align with the cost-of-living 
  • Improve safety standards so there are fewer injuries

Travis says the goal would be to ensure that others in the industry feel valued and respected for their work in the hospitality industry. This is especially needed when the industry is very important to B.C.’s economy.

“In order to have a viable tourism industry, you have to have workers that feel they can support themselves. It’s as simple as that,” said Travis.

“If workers don’t have some control over their schedules, if they don’t have a regular sustainable income in order to do that, then it’s harder and harder to find people who want to work in the industry.”

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