Published: 08/05/2012

The IUF has called on the United Nations’ Global Compact to hold the transnational Accor hotel group accountable for repeated violations of fundamental rights under the Global Compact integrity measures. The request for firm action by the Global Compact was issued on the same day, May 4, as a former Accor human resources director provided details under cross-examination at a Labour Board hearing of the company’s anti-union operation at a Novotel in Ottawa, Canada.

In a May 4 letter to Global Compact Head George Kell, IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald called on the organization to respond to Accor’s consistent pattern of violating Global Compact Principles 1, 2 and 3 in their ongoing efforts over more than 3 years to thwart union rights and representation in 3 of the company’s Novotel hotels in Canada (link). Principle 1 commits businesses to “support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights”; Principle 2, to “make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses”; and Principle 3, to “uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining.”

In 2009-2010, workers at the Accor Novotel Mississauga, Novotel Ottawa and Novotel North York demonstrated strong majority support for union representation by signing union cards, but representation was frustrated by a concerted management campaign to compel workers to vote ‘no’. Anti-union consultants were brought in, captive meetings were held and active union supporters were sacked, disciplined and punished through reduced shifts and other forms of discrimination (see Accor continues brutal violations of trade union rights at Canada hotels).

In April 2009, pressure against union supporters at the Novotel Mississauga intensified when a workers was fired as a consequence of having spoken at a pro-union rally. The firing came after the hotel management had implemented new policies to discourage housekeepers from talking to each other either during or before their shifts.

In April 2010, when workers at the Novotel Ottawa showed overwhelming support for the union, and the Ottawa local called for a recognition ballot. Management then ran an aggressive ‘Vote No’ campaign in the run up to the ballot. This included firing union supporters, threatening workers with the loss of benefits and holding captive audience meetings with workers to dissuade them from supporting the union.

Despite this intense anti-union pressure, workers demonstrated their ongoing commitment to the union through an independent confirmation in 2011 by signing new membership cards. On September 20, local elected City Councillor Maria Augiameri confirmed that the union maintained strong majority support at the three hotels. In retaliation, leading union activists at the Novotel Mississauga and Ottowa Novotels were disciplined and fired for simply talking with co-workers about the City Councilor’s public statement!

Management efforts to limit employee speech – backed up by the threat of dismissal – are no longer confined to the workplace: workers at the Ottawa Novotel have been told to call the police if union supporters come to their door.

The IUF letter to Mr. Kell points out that “Despite repeated attempts by the IUF and by the organization workers have chosen as their representative Unite Here!, to resolve the dispute, Accor continues to violate the principles of the Global Compact. Accor has aggressively and continuously violated these Canadian workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Accor’s attack on employee speech – a fundamental human right – now extends beyond the workplace into workers’ homes!

“Locals 75 & 261 of the IUF-affiliated UNITE HERE!, which represent more than 10,000 workers in over 60 hotels in the Greater Toronto Area and the Ottawa-National Capital Region, including the Novotel Toronto Centre, have filed dozens of complaints of labour law violations against Accor management. In February this year, the Ontario Labor Board held an unprecedented series of continuous meetings to address these serial violations of fundamental trade union rights, with massive documentation of Accor’s anti-union practices provided by Unite Here! Locals 75 & 261 (decisions are expected later this year). Community leaders and local and provincial politicians have publicly condemned these ant-union actions. The IUF itself has raised these issues repeatedly with Accor, yet to date there has been no effective response or good faith effort to undertake remedial action. Accor cannot claim to be unaware of these violations, which should long-since have been addressed as part of routine “human rights due diligence”.

IUF General Secretary Oswald explains that “The requirements placed on companies by the Global Compact are, as we know, minimal, but Accor has failed to comply with even these. The company continues to violate basic employee rights in the workplace and beyond, with its attacks on freedom of speech and expression. While Accor babbles on about its “Earth Guest program” in its reports to the Global Compact, the company’s “self-assessment” of its compliance on employee relations contains not a single reference to ongoing disputes involving union rights issues which hve resulted in a long-standing complaint for ongoing violations of the OECD Guidelines in Canada and Bénin and an unprecedented series of Labour Board hearings in Canada. In fact their reporting says nothing whatsoever about employee rights and the actual situation in Accor workplaces. Let us hope that there are limits to the elasticity in the Global Compact’s application of the integrity measures and that Accor will be properly called to account.”