AUSSIE HOTEL CHAINS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF VULNERABLE WORKERS

Written on the 20 May 2016

AUSSIE HOTEL CHAINS TAKING ADVANTAGE OF VULNERABLE WORKERS

THREE of Australia's major hotel chains have been caught short-changing staff to the tune of $57,000.

The Fair Work Ombudsman released the findings of its Inquiry into the procurement of housekeeping services by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc, The Accor Group and Oaks Hotels & Resorts Ltd.

It was found that dozens of housekeepers - whose roles included vacuuming, turning down beds, cleaning, restocking consumables and washing - had been short-changed close to $60,000.

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman, many of those impacted were vulnerable employees - international students and backpackers on the 417 working holiday visa, mostly from China and Korea.

Starwood globally owns and operates about 1200 properties throughout the world, including Sheraton, Four Points, Westin and Starwood hotels in Australia.

Accor operates more than 3700 properties internationally, with more than 40 hotels in Australia, including Ibis and Ibis budget hotels. 

Oaks Hotels & Resorts Ltd operates 43 properties across Australia, as well as facilities in New Zealand, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

"The community expects more from established and profitable brands to ensure that workers on their sites, whether directly employed or not, are treated and paid fairly," says the Fair Work Ombudsman in a statement.

"We have minimum pay rates in Australia, they apply to everyone, and they are not negotiable."

After Oaks Hotels & Resorts learned of the Fair Work Ombudsman's intention to file legal proceedings against the sole contractor providing its housekeeping services - Housekeepers Pty Ltd - both companies signed enforceable undertakings with the Fair Work Ombudsman agreeing to terms and conditions which both initially declined.

Oaks has acknowledged through the EU that its operating model led to a situation where housekeepers were highly vulnerable to exploitation.  The hotel operator says it has a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that all entities and individuals within its supply chain comply with workplace laws.

"Once again, this Inquiry has clearly highlighted the need for lead businesses in Australia to ensure their labour supply chain arrangements are compliant," says the Fair Work Ombudsman.

"Outsourcing is a legitimate business arrangement but in my experience, in highly competitive markets for low-skilled work, it also increases the risk that workers will be underpaid, sometimes quite deliberately.

"It is a failure not only of legal responsibility, but moral and ethical leadership, for large corporates to seek to contract out the wages and conditions of their workforce without ensuring good governance and compliance."

The Fair Work Ombudsman will now not pursue legal proceedings against Housekeepers, and Oaks has committed to a broad range of actions to ensure sustained future compliance with federal workplace laws.

In relation to Starwood, the Inquiry found a number of breaches with its principal contractors including using rostering systems that were not compliant, failing to apply penalty rates incorrectly and failing to apply the minimum pay rate.

Meanwhile, in relation to The Accor Group's two principal contractors, it was found that they failed to create a regular pattern of work document for its part-time employees and was issued with a compliance notice and letter of caution.

Last financial year, the Fair Work Ombudsman received more than 7600 calls from cleaners concerned about their wages and entitlements. The agency also dealt with 500 requests for assistance from cleaners, recording an overall contravention rate of 40 per cent.


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