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Workplaces free from sexual harassment and violence

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For all our women members in the hotel and restaurant sector around the world it is reassuring to see that in a unionized hotel in New York, the right to a workplace free from sexual harassment is taken seriously.

The IUF and its affiliates have long been fighting agaist sexual harassment as it is one of the worst expressions of gender inequality and one of the most serious occupational health and safety risks facing women.

« Sexual harassment (…) arises from power relations rather than sexual interest. This form of humiliation does not occur among equals » (IUF Equaltiy Memorandum, 1987)

In the African regional women’s project, the struggle for workplaces free from sexual harassment and violence against women has become one of the top priorities.

For all our women members in the hotel and restaurant sector in Africa and around the world it is reassuring to see that in a unionized hotel in New York, the right to a workplace free from sexual harassment is taken seriously.

With the permission of the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, AFL-CIO (NYHTC) which represents NY Sofitel workers we are reproducing their recent editorial :

EDITORIAL: New York is the wrong place to prey on hotel workers...
NYHTC - May 20, 2011
It is an unfortunate fact, which attracts little attention from the media or the public, that workers in the "hospitality industry" suffer exploitation silently, almost everywhere.

Normally, they do physically grueling and often unsafe work in return for disgracefully low wages, and few, if any, benefits. Normally, they work on-call, and their livelihoods thus depend not only on the daily fluctuations of a volatile business, but also on the petty whims of managers who exercise arbitrary power over them.

Most workers in this industry are non-union and therefore have few rights vis-a-vis their employers, even on paper, and far fewer rights in practice. They can be disciplined or penalized, or fired or simply denied work, without cause, at any time. Those non-union workers who happen also to be undocumented immigrants – a large proportion of the total workforce in the U.S. hospitality industry – live almost entirely without the protection of law. For these reasons, employers generally feel free to mistreat employees, to cheat them, to disregard their safety, to rob them of their dignity, and to violate even the few pitiful legal rights that exist in theory, knowing they can do so with impunity. So, employees in this industry, throughout the world, are normally too afraid to complain about anything.

The management philosophy in this luxury service business expects employees to behave with extreme servility toward customers ("guests"). The watchword, "the customer is always right," strongly influences the industry, at least in its attitude toward employees. This encourages an atmosphere in which workers are often virtually invisible to the public, except perhaps to some who see them as easy prey.
"Hospitality" companies, with the help of the politicians, lawyers, and publicists who serve them, work hard to keep employees stooped and subservient, while the industry's public image sparkles.

These conditions exist all over the world, except in certain enclaves, like most of the hotel industry (but, unfortunately not most of the restaurant industry) in New York City, and portions of some of the other largest hotel markets in North America. That is because those are the places where hotel workers have strong unions. Even in Europe, most hotel workers do not.

In the worldwide hotel industry, New York City has the highest proportion of unionization (75%), and hotel employees here have the strongest union with the best contract. They enjoy the highest wages in the industry, excellent benefits, strong job security, good working conditions, and powerful grievance rights. They also have a militant union – their own organization, governed and funded not by wealthy donors but by themselves – that aggressively enforces those rights.
As a result, this island enclave is one of the only places on earth where most hotel workers are not afraid to speak up and demand justice.