A paradox in COVID-19 pandemic recovery

Increased precarity of women hotel workers in British Columbia
January 24, 2024
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This report documents the experiences of women hotel workers—a group of women who have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but rarely represented in media, research or policy debates. It draws on focus groups and interviews with 27 women hotel workers in B.C., the majority of whom are immigrant and racialized women. Their lived experiences illustrate how pandemic responses initiated changes in the hotel sector that interacted with pre-existing inequities, challenging labour conditions and a devaluing of care work. This has led to ongoing negative effects on their health and livelihoods, with little regard for their contributions to the hospitality and tourism industries, which represent a significant source of national revenue.

The report makes the following recommendations to safeguard workers’ rights:

Secure recall rights: Governments should safeguard workers’ right to recall in case of layoff during health or other emergencies. This can be done by providing protection through the Employment Standards Act and other policies or guidance. Both levels of government should enforce recall as a condition for extending emergency benefits to employers who furlough or lay off workers. 

Address income insecurity: The accommodation and food services sector and hotel industry employers should provide their workers full-time employment with regular work schedules and abandon cost-minimizing strategies that contribute to income insecurity among workers. Where scheduling changes are necessary, employers should provide workers with reasonable advanced notice. The provincial government should protect workers from income precarity by introducing a predictive scheduling regulation that limits on-call scheduling. 

Enable affordability: The provincial government should work towards increasing the minimum wage to a living wage so that salaries better align with actual cost of living. The federal government should support retirement security by further enhancing the Canada Pension Plan (to reduce reliance on private savings) and income support for low-income seniors through increases to the GIS top-up for both single seniors and couples. The accommodation and food services sector and hotel industry employers should commit to becoming certified living wage employers and to reduce the gender wage gap. Employers should further provide benefits that reduce the financial burden of workers, including transit subsidies.

Safeguard workers’ rights: Employers in the accommodation and food services sector and hotel industry should establish safe and manageable workloads in collaboration with workers and unions, to be actively monitored and updated. Employers should further ensure workers receive periodic training on work safety, including the use of ergonomic measures and tools and taking breaks between tasks. Employers should fulfil their responsibility of ensuring all workers are aware of their rights, including the right to safe workplaces, to take breaks, to unionize, and to seek redress where their rights are not upheld. The provincial government should improve enforcement of work safety employment standards. 

Safeguard workers’ health and well-being: In addition to the above recommendations to ensure safe and manageable workloads and offering periodic safety training, the accommodation and food services sector and hotel industry employers should provide all workers—full-time and part-time—with extended health benefits that include physiotherapy treatment and mental health support. Further, the industry and employers should implement permanent employer-paid sick leave for all workers to supplement the government’s paid sick leave for workers who might not qualify for disability leave benefits.