Tourism’s Dirty Secret: Exploitation of women hotel housekeepers

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Hotel Housekeepers are often subject to abuse by hotel guests. Profits in the global hotel industry are based on the systematic exploitation of housekeepers, the majority of whom are poor women living in fear of losing their jobs, says a new report by Oxfam Canada entitled Tourism’s Dirty Secret: The Exploitation of Hotel Housekeepers.

In interviews with current and former hotel housekeepers in Canada, the Dominican Republic and Thailand, Oxfam heard hotels often don’t pay housekeepers enough to survive, make them work long hours with no overtime pay, and turn a blind eye to high rates of injury and sexual harassment on the job.

“You cannot say anything because if you say something, you don’t know if you’re there tomorrow. If you report it, they don’t even believe it,” said Torontohousekeeper Luz Flores.

One housekeeper in Punta Cana was hospitalized with severe vomiting, despite repeatedly complaining to her supervisor about exposure to toxic chemicals. In Toronto, housekeeper Lei Eigo was asked to deliver a pillow to a guest, only to be greeted by a naked man at the door.

“With the busy holiday travel season approaching, Canadians need to understand the daily reality for the women who ensure their rooms are clean and comfortable. A housekeeper’s job can be dangerous, dirty and demanding,” said Diana Sarosi, Women’s Rights Policy & Advocacy Specialist at Oxfam Canada. “The hotel industry is just one example of how our global economy relies on exploiting women’s cheap labour to maximize profits. It illustrates the vast and growing inequality of today’s world.”

Oxfam has warned the gap between the super-rich and everyone else is increasing at an unprecedented rate, disproportionately affecting women who make up the majority of the world’s poor. Consider it would take a housekeeper in Phuket, Thailand nearly 14 years to earn as much as the highest paid hotel CEOs make in a single day.

“The working lives of hotel housekeepers and those of hotel CEOs graphically depict the unacceptable inequality that plagues today’s world. This growing wealth gap is bad for us all. It makes it harder to end poverty, and it has particularly adverse consequences for women,” Sarosi said.

Such systematic exploitation is not inevitable. Oxfam’s report found when women have the ability to unionize, they earn decent wages and benefits, have greater job security, and experience less stress and fewer injuries. However, employer resistance and a climate of fear created by management make organizing in the hotel sector extremely difficult, particularly in developing countries.

“Governments around the world must hold corporations accountable for violations of labour rights, and take action on pay equity,” said Sarosi. “Politicians, companies and everyday people all have a role to play in putting an end to the exploitation of women at work. We need to build a movement where everyone does their part to ensure women’s work is fairly paid and equally valued.”

  • The full report is available on Oxfam Canada’s website at www.oxfam.ca/no-exploitation
  • For a summary and details of Tourism’s Dirty Secret: The Exploitation of Hotel Housekeepers, see our Backgrounder at www.oxfam.ca/news
  • Canadians can join Oxfam and a growing movement of people committed to speaking out against extreme inequality and ensuring the work women do is fairly paid and equally valued by signing up at www.shortchanged.ca
Juergen Thomas Steinmetz has continuously worked in the travel and tourism industry since he was a teenager in Germany (1979), beginning as a travel agent up through today as a publisher of eTurboNews (eTN), one of the world’s most influential and most-read travel and tourism publications. He is also Chairman of ICTP. His experiences include working and collaborating with various national tourism offices and non-governmental organizations, as well as private and non-profit organizations, and in planning, implementing, and quality control of a range of travel and tourism-related activities and programs, including tourism policies and legislation. His major strengths include a vast knowledge of travel and tourism from the point of view of a successful private enterprise owner, superb networking skills, strong leadership, excellent communication skills, strong team player, attention to detail, dutiful respect for compliance in all regulated environments, and advisory skills in both political and non-political arenas with respect to tourism programs, policies, and legislation. He has a thorough knowledge of current industry practices and trends and is a computer and Internet junkie.