The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected workplaces all over the world. Many have lost their jobs, lost job stability, are working from home, or have had to change the way they do things at work. The pandemic has led employees to throw their standards out the window and accept harsher work conditions. COVID-19 is being used by some companies as an excuse to overwork their employees, while paying them the same pre-pandemic wage.
The value of workers in hospitality has changed
Over the summer, I worked at a small lodge style resort in Jasper, Alberta. Between all the government restrictions, travel restrictions, and companywide restrictions that were put in place to keep us employees safe as well as all the guests safe, the job had many more responsibilities and expectations than it did pre-COVID.
Because of how hard the hotel industry was hit by the pandemic, everyone at the hotel seemed to feel lucky to have been able to have job stability through such uncertain times. The Hotel and Lodging Association of Alberta suggested many restrictions hotels should follow to ensure safety for everyone. These restrictions added many responsibilities for us, one of them being that hotel rooms had to sit for at least three hours between the guests leaving and any employee entering the room. This meant that the housekeepers, along with everyone else at the hotel, had to fit 8 hours of work into 5 hours.
I am sure we have all tried to check into a hotel and been told our room is not yet ready, how frustrating! Guests of the lodge were arriving after a 4 hour road trip (at least), many of them with kids. The last thing you want to hear when you arrive to the hotel is “ Sorry, your room is not ready, you can wait in the lobby or go explore town”. All they want is to have a shower and a nap.
As you can imagine the three hour delay put a lot of stress on everyone at the resort, the housekeepers had tighter deadlines, the front desk staff had to constantly disappoint people, and the guests were upset and demanding. This delay, along with all the other restrictions put in place, added many stressors at work.
Although they were fulltime employees, housekeepers were working an average of 5 hours a day, at just above minimum wage while the hotel was at full occupancy. They were working 25 hours a week, with big stressors for those 25 hours. They were responsible for disinfecting everything, held to higher standards for their cleaning by both guests and management to ensure that guests were safe when staying there, and given less time to do so when compared to ‘normal’ seasons.
Handling all of these new added stressors and responsibilities changed the value of their work completely, but their wages stayed the same. They were getting paid much less per paycheque, not because of the lack of low occupancy levels or lack of work, but because they had to fit a full day of work in five hours.
While this was happening, however, the employees would blame the harsher work conditions on the pandemic. In their eyes, the employer was not responsible at all for the new stressors that they encountered. The employer, rather than compensating wages for the added value of the employees, held pizza parties once a month to show they were grateful for the extra work. Although the pizza was great, hospitality workers’ wages are already amongst the lowest when compared to other industries in Canada. Everyone was coming together in the time of a crisis and did not identify their low job satisfaction as the fault of their employer. Is it ethical for hospitality companies to exploit their workers in times of crisis? A study done by Hospitality and Tourism Management universities in Turkey and the USA identified work stressors as the key factor negatively affecting job satisfaction and overall employee wellbeing. COVID-19 definitely increased stressors at work, no matter the industry, but working in the hospitality industry means the employees have to interact with people coming from all over the country, every day. It is their job to keep the guests safe, but also a major stressor is keeping themselves safe. The study highlights that all these added stressors definitely play a part in the lowered job satisfaction in hospitality, but employees are still getting paid low wages.
 Casado-Diaz, J., Simon, H. (2015). Wage Differences in the Hospitality sector. Tourism Management. 52. 96-109
 Darvishmotevali, M., Ali, F. Job insecurity, subjective well-being and job performance: The moderating role of
psychological capital. International Journal of Hospitality Management. 87, 102562.
Are we right to forgive employers for the even lower pay cheques while dealing with added intensity at work because we are amidst a pandemic?
In Canada, 36% of workers in the tourism industry are between the ages of 15-24. Studies have shown that employers often do not inform younger workers of their rights and they are generally less aware of their rights at work. Another study surveyed 330 undergraduate university students about their work in the hospitality industry. 51% of the students mentioned that upon reflection, they felt they had been exploited economically at their first job
The hospitality industry is already exploiting their workers, paying very low wages, and expecting a high standard of work from them. The outbreak of COVID-19 is intensifying this exploitation. Employees are getting paid the same wage per hour, getting fewer hours per week, while their work is increasing in value for the company. Instead of moving forward, the industry has taken a big step backwards in terms of valuing and compensating their entry level workers that are doing the ‘dirty work’, especially in times of this pandemic.
 Statistics Canada. (2015). Results. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/13-604-m/2014074/results-eng.htm
 CFIB. (2021). Young Workers- Do They Know Their Rights?. Retrieved from https://www.cfib-fcei.ca/en/tools-resources/young-workers-do-they-know-their-rights
 Ruiz, C., Bartlett, D., Moir, E. Welcome to your first job: expect to be underpaid, bullied, harassed or exploited in some way. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/welcome-to-your-first-job-expect-to-be-underpaid-bullied-harassed-or-exploited-in-some-way-110438
This post was written by Lili-Anna Morin, a 4th year hospitality management student asked to write an opinion piece on wages in the hospitality industry.