Workers' rights

The service-oriented hotel industry requires a high amount of human labour, meaning there is a wide range of workers rights risks. Inadequate working conditions are common.

Uncertain work contracts and the extensive use of temporary and seasonal workers in the hotel industry result in income insecurity, exclusion from social security systems, possibility of unfair dismissals, and greater vulnerability of employees to abuse and exploitation. 

Many big hotel chains outsource services such as cleaning as well as other staff to external agencies, encouraging wage dumping and a race to the bottom. Low wages are common in the hotel and facility management sector, and they often do not meet minimum wage requirements or allow workers to reach an adequate standard of living. Moreover, hotels often require staff to work overtime and only grant an insufficient number of rest days or provide inadequate compensation. Other employment abuses include the refusal to pay for sick leave. Health issues may be a result of long working hours, insecurity, and a stressful work environment.

Specific risks for employees in small hotels or more informal accommodation include work with no or only short-term formal contracts and a lack of income security as well as social and medical insurance.

The hotel industry and its supply chain provide numerous job opportunities for people with a low level of education, resulting in a high number of employees from vulnerable groups. Large power imbalances and dependencies may lead to exploitation and unequal opportunities.  

Some hotels only provide inadequate accommodation for their staff, lacking privacy or hygiene requirements and not guaranteeing adequate living conditions.

Employees in the hotel industry are often not allowed to organize themselves or to join a trade union.

See also risk card on Lodging and Modern slavery.

Working conditions in London’s high-class hotels

According to several articles and reports, staff of high-class hotels throughout London face sexual harassment, bullying, and employment abuses. Cleaning staff have to follow tight schedules which are almost impossible to meet without working overtime. Overtime is only inadequately compensated.  

In 2018, almost 8000 Marriott hotel employees were striking in eight US cities to demand better wages and workplace safety with the slogan “One job should be enough”. In Hawaii, the strike lasted 52 days and ended in an agreement and improved working conditions for staff (see video). 

Exploitation of backpacker labour in beds for wages deals in New Zealand

A Labour Inspectorate investigation into illegal use of volunteer labour has found the practice is rife in the accommodation sector in New Zealand. Overseas workers were less likely to be aware of their rights and entitlements to a minimum wage and holiday pay, and it was possible the numbers of young travellers being exploited ran into the thousands.

Skye tourism workers complain of low pay and poor working conditions

Hotel workers on Skye have complained of being underpaid, denied holidays and given substandard accommodation as the island experiences a lucrative tourism boom. The island’s hotels and B&Bs are booked solidly throughout the summer, while the number of AirBnB properties registered on Skye has increased tenfold in three years, from 54 in 2015 to more than 550 in 2018.

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Integrate clauses on working conditions in contracts with accommodation providers / Supplier Code of Conduct. 

Supplier assessment

  • Assess the working conditions of hotel staff through second- and third-party audits.
  • Encourage suppliers to get certified by an independent third-party certification recognised by GSTC (e.g. Travelife for hotels)

Training and capacity building

  • Train procurement staff on the issue of working conditions in hotels and how they can address it when interacting with suppliers.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.