In May 2020 Accor announced intensified hygiene and prevention measures to guarantee guests’ safety under its new “Allsafe” global brand. Hundreds of new safety and hygiene protocols were unilaterally introduced to meet the new standards of cleanliness. In the Asia-Pacific region workers in Accor properties found that the new protocols were developed without any consideration of working conditions, workload or workers’ safety. They experienced longer working hours on less pay; exposure to new, more toxic chemicals used as disinfectants in rooms and public areas; erratic shifts; and the reintroduction of the same unsafe work practices that existed before the pandemic.
This includes room quotas for housekeepers/room attendants. Room quotas have long been identified as a source of injury and illness caused by the pressure to clean rooms quickly to meet targets and avoid penalties and loss of pay. Now under the new cleanliness protocols, housekeepers must clean more intensively with more toxic chemicals and carry out a range of new tasks, but with the same room quotas. This further increases excessive workloads, injury and stress.
To many workers the new safety protocols seem to be designed to give the appearance of a safe hotel for guests, while failing to make it a safe workplace for workers. But the reality is that for any hotel to be safe, the health and safety of the workers serving, cooking, cleaning and taking care of guests needs to be protected and rights respected.
By shifting the burden and the risk of a safe reopening to workers, Accor hopes to keep the costs of the new cleanliness program down. This is taken to extremes in Indonesia, where Accor Indonesia allows hotel management to shift the costs of new health protocols onto workers. At the Novotel Surabaya, for example, workers were told that they must have a COVID-19 rapid test every two weeks to be allowed to work. The test costs IDR 150,000 (about USD 10) and workers must pay for it themselves – every two weeks. Accor pays nothing. Workers will now spend between 7% to 14% of their monthly wages just to be allowed to work.
The prospects of a safe opening are even less in those hotels that terminate experienced, trained workers to save costs during temporary closures. When hotels reopen, the entire workforce will be untrained, inexperienced and unable to maintain or guarantee safety protocols. This puts everyone at risk. This risk escalates exponentially when management also uses the crisis to violate workers’ rights by denying them the right to union representation.
At Accor‘s Sofitel Nusa Dua in Bali, management bypassed the union, refusing to allow workers union representation as they coerced them to stay home without pay. Management gave 589 workers two options – to stay home without pay or to continue to work with adjusted pay. Using the fear and anxiety of the COVID-19 crisis, management convinced the majority of workers to take the first option. For the workers who chose the second option, they were unfairly terminated less than a month later. This was essentially punishment for wanting to be paid.
At Accor‘s Fairmont Sanur in Bali, workers were asked in April to make a sacrifice to help the company in these difficult times. They agreed to a 70% wage cut, receiving only 30% of their wages, putting them well below the poverty line. Despite this sacrifice in wages, management still tried to force 68 workers to sign “voluntary” resignation letters at the end of July. All of them were members of the union. The workers refused and two days later received termination letters declaring them redundant. Although management claimed that the workers were redundant because of the economic situation, their real motives were exposed when they allowed workers to return to work on the condition that they quit the union.
So in an accelerating pandemic Accor Indonesia and the management at Fairmont launched yet another attack on trade union rights, to push back against union demand for greater protection. By terminating the most experienced, skilled workers to cut costs and remove the union, Fairmont management has shown that they are ready to abuse workers’ rights and livelihoods in a pandemic, and expose guests to even greater risk when the hotel reopens for domestic tourism.
No doubt these short-term cost savings – combined with attacks on trade union rights – will translate into much greater costs for Accor. This includes the costs incurred by the reputational damage to the Accor and Allsafe brands at a time when the company is desperately trying to gain the trust and confidence of travellers and guests.