Hi. I’m new here. I’m a room attendant – what may have been known in the past as a ‘chambermaid’ – but basically, a cleaner. I work in the Housekeeping department of a luxury Four Star hotel in London made up of 350 bedrooms for the rich, the even richer, and people who managed to get cheap internet deals.
My agency contract guarantees me a wage of £24 per week. No I didn’t miss a zero there. That’s four hours work at the minimum wage of £6.50 an hour.
I’m expected to clean 16 rooms in a 7.5 hour day with a 30 minute unpaid lunch break that goes in the blink of an eye. That’s 20 minutes to: change a double (or Queen or Kingsize) bed, perfectly plump and press four pillows, dust two bedside tables, pictures, a desk, an office chair, a table, clean a hospitality tray and replace tea, coffee, milk, sugar and cookies, wipe and ‘mop’ a bathroom (with a floor duster), wash any dirty cups or glasses, replace soap, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion, fold all towels and bath mat, wash a sink and bath/shower and toilet, polish all chrome and hoover everywhere.
The housekeeping department is all women save for a couple of supervisors and around four young male laundry porters. We’re a workforce of around 45 and we’re Indian, Nigerian, Sri Lankan, Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Polish, Lithuanian, Czech and Latvian. Around 35 of us clean at least 10 rooms per day, covering the entire, five floor, 350 room hotel.
The first three days are training – shadowing and working with a long-term worker.
I had my first day today, trained by a twentysomething Indian woman – Adhira* – who literally seemed to dance around the bed, the room and bathroom spraying, tucking, smoothing, straightening, hoovering and wiping.
She’s been doing the job for five years on an agency contract. I learn she has a three year old daughter. I ask why she hasn’t been taken on by the hotel direct. She mumbles something about how she had got pregnant so they did not take her on at the time.
I ask her if we’re really expected to do 16 rooms per day? ‘You cannot do it’ she says bluntly. ‘It is too hard. Too hard’. She is in a constant state of motion and seemingly exhausted and agitated at the same time. She drinks Red Bull for breakfast.
Some of the rooms are in a worse state than others. Departure rooms are the worst as they require a total overhaul and supervisors will come and check everything afterwards. Occupied rooms which don’t need a linen change can be spruced up rapidly without the need to hoover or wipe down too much.
As I fumble along, unused to the pace, Adhira chides me, ‘Faster, faster, faster’. I know that’s the logic of capitalism but no one had ever said it to me, over me, like that before.
It’s also pretty hard to keep up when half, literally, half of all the bedding we’re putting down is marked in some way and needs to be taken off and replaced again, and when your hoover’s held together with gaffer tape and the end keeps falling off, it’s pretty stressful. But, you have to go ‘Faster, faster, faster…’
This blog isn’t going to be just about how exploitative this work and the luxury hotel industry and the agencies that profit from it are, although you will hear all about that. This is also about getting organised and fighting back. There have been enough stories and exposes, and journos in aprons and hidden cameras all pointing out the victimisation we are subject to. But that hasn’t changed very much. Standing up to these empires, together, will…
*All workers’ names will be kept confidential