A work in progress

Daphna Whitmore The Spark March 2009  

Auckland airport’s Centra hotel looks stunning. The newly renovated rooms are spotlessly clean; the beds have fresh crisp linen, folded with envelope precision. Many hands created this perfection.centra-housekeepers

Every day a dozen or more women start cleaning the rooms at 8am. Before they begin they have got children out of bed and off to school, dropped husbands at their workplaces and then headed to their own job as a room attendant. They set to work cleaning anywhere between 15 and 20 hotels rooms, stripping beds, scrubbing floors, wiping every surface clean and putting everything in its place. When the guest walks into the room it is as if no one had ever stayed there before. No tell-tale strand of hair or nail clipping must be left behind. Nothing less than perfection will do.

Only the strongest, most determined workers survive this job. It is physically gruelling and the pressure to get the rooms ready is relentless, as last night’s guests leave and new guests arrive.

At  4pm the women rush off to collect children from school, pick up husbands and spend a few precious hours with their families.

The Centra hotel is a busy place. It did over $9 million in business last year, while the average room attendant was paid less than $13.50 an hour.

In the hotel industry, as with all capitalist businesses, no profit margin is large enough. New ways of squeezing more profit are constantly searched for and pounced on. Why not get some of these women to start work at 10am and finish at 6.30pm? That way, if guests leave late in the day the rooms will still be cleaned, ready in case they can be sold that same evening.  This is called “the needs of the business” and is much more important than anything else.

The women protest – how can they leave their children at home alone? Who will pick them up from school? How will they manage to juggle their transport arrangements? They don’t want to stand in the dark waiting to catch a bus at night.

The needs of the business now clash head on with the needs of the workers and their families. The women say no. They are in the union and speak collectively so their voice can be heard clearly. There are mutterings that if the company tries to force them to work this shift the women will walk off the job.

Due to the workers’ united stance the company must reconsider.

To be continued …

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