Today’s Solutions: October 19, 2021

Thanks to Las Kellys, Spain’s chambermaids’ organization, tourists booking accommodations in any city in the country will soon be able to rate their stay based on location, cleanliness, hospitality, and how the staff gets treated.

The organization is setting up its own platform after failing to persuade established booking platforms like Booking.com and TripAdvisor to include working conditions in hotel rankings. Las Kellys launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the creation of their own website and mobile app, and just last week they surpassed the minimum requirement of €60,000 and are well on their way to reach their maximum goal of €90,000.

Las Kellys (which is a play on the words: las que limpian, which translates to “the women who clean”) started as a WhatsApp group based in Barcelona in 2014. As membership grew, the group decided to form an association in 2016, which, propelled by the frustration they felt by the indifference of the union that was supposed to represent them, the group founded their own trade union, Sindicato Las Kellys Cataluña.

To meet Las Kellys criteria, hotels must demonstrate that they respect the national agreement on pay and conditions, comply with health and safety regulations, have an equal pay policy, employ vulnerable people, and employ the chambermaids in-house.

“We want to usher in a new era of tourism where people’s working conditions and their humanity are above economic interests,” explains Las Kellys spokesperson Vania Arana. If hotels have to abide by these expectations, it will lessen the likelihood that hotels, especially big chains, will outsource workers to agencies. The agencies then employ “cleaners” instead of chambermaids, who under national pay agreements are paid less.

The outsourced contracts may seem fair on paper because they offer the same pay and conditions, but with a catch—they specify an impossible number of rooms (between 25 and 30) that need to be completed in a six-hour shift. This means that workers must put in unpaid overtime to reach the quota, bringing their hourly rate all the way down to €3 or €4, less than minimum wage.

The pandemic only made things worse as many agencies simply closed their businesses and didn’t provide relief for their staff. “About 16,000 colleagues who had contracts to work the summer months were left high and dry and unable to claim anything,” says Arana.

Now that hotels are reopening, you would think that the situation would improve, but they’ve only gotten worse. “A woman came to us because an agency was paying her €39 for more than eight hours a day. She told them: ‘I’m going to report you to the Kellys,’ and as soon as we wrote to them, they sacked her.”

Another loophole hotels use, according to Arana, is to employ people for a two-week trial, but then dismiss them at the end of the two weeks.

Arana calls attention to the fact that, although they have Spanish members, most are immigrants from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa. “There are a lot of African women… hotels like them because they often speak English. They prefer single mothers because they’re easier to exploit.”

Las Kellys will launch their app and website in the new year, and in the meantime will be looking for hotels that meet the criteria so that they can offer bookings through the app.

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