Marriott Employees Seek Concrete Steps for Protection from Sexual Harassment

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Protests were held in a number of countries demanding that the management sign a document presented by workers regarding their rights

Image: IUF

by Pavan Kulkarni / The Dawn News / June 30, 2018

Employees of the Marriott Group across continents organized meetings and protests on June 27, demanding that their employer – the world’s largest hotel chain – negotiate a global agreement with them on measures it will take to protect its employees from sexual harassment by customers and other demands.

Organized by the over 10 million member-strong IUF (International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association), the protests saw unionized employees of the hotel demonstrating in a number of countries, including Indonesia, Maldives, Philippines, Samoa and Thailand.  

In the US and Canada, under the leadership of UNITE HERE – a 270,000 member-strong union with representation in many sectors, including hospitality – thousands of employees, both unionized and non-unionized, came together in a collective action.  

With placards reading  ‘One job should be enough!’, demands were also raised for living wages that are sufficient to support families in the cities in which they work, and to have a dignified retirement. Protection against sexual harassment was another central demand.

These protests have come on the heels of the company’s reluctance to sign a document titled ‘Global Demands on Marriott Regarding Sexual Harassment‘, handed to the company bosses on May 29 by Marriott employees from North and South America, Africa and Asia who marched from Ritz-Carlton Hotel de la Paix to the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva during the 107th session of the International Labour Council.

The document pointed out that workers who are not directly employed by the hotel, but through contractors, are particularly vulnerable as they are often unable to complaint about harassment, out of a “fear of retaliatory termination that is particularly common where employment relationships are informal, part-time or temporary.” The document demanded that the nature of employment in the company should be predominantly direct and regular.

The document further demanded that minors hired by the company “should not be employed in jobs or tasks involving contact with customers, except in the presence of an adult colleague”, and that their duties be restricted to those departments and tasks that do not make them vulnerable to sexual harassment by the guests.  

“An end to working in isolation as hotel housekeepers often do”, portable panic buttons which can be carried by the hotel staff while on duty to immediately alert security, the “right to leave a dangerous or uncomfortable situation without facing any penalties from the employer or management for not doing the work”, and regular training of all employees in consultation with unions representing them, are measures the unions have asked the company to put in place.

Further, in a bid to make workers feel safe in the event of having to file a complaint when harassed, the unions have also demanded, “[w]ritten guarantees from the employer that there will be no retaliation against workers raising issues of sexual harassment, whether they complain to management or to the police,” and an assurance from the employer “that guests with a record of harassing or abusing workers will not be allowed to return to the hotel.”

When instances of sexual harassment by customers have been reported to the management by staff, not only are the accused guests allowed to continue staying in the hotel, but the staff who have complained of harassment are sometimes sent back to serve the same person the following day, UNITE HERE’s National Press Secretary Rachel Gumpert alleged.

To ensure that complaints are acted upon, the document calls for the constitution of an oversight body – chosen through the union or by directly nominated by workers in absence of union – “composed of experienced investigators, representatives of women’s organizations, and other individuals trained to handle sexual harassment issues, empowered to receive complaints, investigate them rigorously, and make binding recommendations to management,” adding, “Voluntary commitments and corporate self-policing will not work.”

The problem of sexual harassment of hotel staff is not exclusive to Marriott hotel and is endemic across the hotel industry. However, the Marriott – the largest hotel chain that earns a profit of a billion dollars a year, with more than 6,400 hotels in 126 countries that employs 220,000 workers – “is uniquely placed to transform it, and set a new standard for the world’s hotel industry. Established principles of global corporate accountability, as well as the company’s own stated support for universally-recognized human rights norms, require that it develop a global solution for a global problem,” the document stated.

In response to the workers’ demands, “[w]e saw a lot of pretty words from the CEO of Marriott and absolutely no follow up afterwards.. So I think if they really were interested, they would be signing the global accord,” Gumpert said

More demonstrations to pressurize the company into accepting these demands are expected to take place over the weekend.  

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