Collective agreement breaches in hotel sector

In July 2012, the Cyprus Labour Institute conducted a survey on collective labour agreements and trade union organisation in the hotel industry. The survey was based on stratified sampling using a self-completed questionnaire of employees in the hotel sector in the districts of Paphos and Ammochostos. The survey included data such as the characteristics of employment in hotels, workers’ views on breaches of their collective agreements and general job satisfaction.

Aim of the survey

A survey by the Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK-PEO) has highlighted the multifaceted issue of breaches in collective agreements in the hotel industry. It has also looked into the extent of these breaches and at the groups of workers directly affected.

The outcomes of the survey were based on quantitative data collected using the method of stratified sampling. The survey questioned Cypriots, EU citizens, and third country nationals employed in two tourist districts of Cyprus. The sample included employees from a spectrum of occupations represented in the hotel sector, and including hotels of all ratings, from five-star establishments to small apartments.

Features of employment in the hotel sector

The survey questioned 338 workers in July 2012 considered to be a representative cross-section of employees in the industry.

More women (54%) than men were questioned, and the mean age of the sample was 37 years. The youngest respondent was 18 and the oldest 63. Non-Cypriots represented 49% of the sample, with 40% of those coming from European Union countries, mainly from the former Eastern bloc; 8% said they were of Greek ethnic origin (immigrants from the Black Sea region); and 0.9% came from other countries.

Educational levels were relatively high, with 25% reporting that they had received a university-level education. The largest percentage (49%) was high school graduates. However, the extent of their training for the job was not at the same high level, with 32% saying they had received no training. Low levels of training on fast-track programmes were reported by 26%.

The survey asked workers about employment contracts: 58% were permanent staff, 24% worked on a seasonal basis, 12% had fixed-term contracts, 4% were employed under oral agreements and 2% gave no answer. The majority of permanent employees (68%) were Cypriots aged 36–45. The survey revealed that 24% of those working under individual contracts were not aware of the terms of their contracts, and 22% stated that the terms of their contracts were not connected with collective agreements or labour legislation. It is significant that 83% of non-Cypriots said they were unaware of the terms of their contracts.

When it came to working hours, 37% said they worked between 36 and 40 hours per week, 21% worked 45–50 hours, and 1.9% worked 51 or more hours. Those working 51 or more hours were mainly men (58%) and mainly non-Cypriots (75%).

With regard to union membership, 66.6% were union members, whereas most of the non-members were non-Cypriots aged 18–25 (78%). The main reasons given for not being union members were:

  • there was no trade union organisation in the workplace (25%);
  • fear that joining a union might lead to them losing their job (18%);
  • the employer did not allow them to join a union (17%).

Of great importance was net monthly income, with 31% of those questioned saying that they earned between €801 and €1,100 a month, and 28% saying they earned between €501 and €800.

Only 3% earned less than €500, 2% gave no answer and the rest (25%) earned more than 1,400€. The survey showed that women and non-Cypriots were the lowest paid workers in the sector.

Collective agreements

The survey examined the payment of basic benefits, such as the bonus 13th month of salary and the Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA) by employers. These benefits are laid down in collective agreements and relevant legislation.

In general the proportion of breaches regarding non-payment of benefits and other contributions was particularly high, except for social insurance contributions. Those most affected by the breaches were younger people, non-Cypriots, women, employees in five-star hotels and employees in the district of Ammochostos.

The majority of workers (67%) did receive the 13th month of salary, which is included in the sectoral agreement, but 48% of non-union members and 9% union members did not enjoy this benefit.

Some hotels had their own agreements which did not include a 13th month of salary. This might explain the high percentage of non-union members saying they did not receive this benefit.

The survey showed that 32% of workers received the Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA), but 15.7% did not know whether they had received it or not. The research found 29% of union members and 65% of non-union members were not granted this right, and for union members this constituted a violation of their agreement.

Workers are also entitled to a 10% service charge provided as part of their salaries, based on the position of employees in the hierarchy. However, this agreement had been broken according to 36% of respondents.

Just over 84% of workers reported that hotels paid their social insurance contributions, 66.6% reported that medical cover was paid and 63% of workers were given annual paid leave.

Employees’ views on collective agreement breaches

The survey asked employees in the hotel industry for their views on their employers’ breaches of the collective agreements. They were asked whether the collective agreements should be applied to all employees irrespective of ethnic origin. The vast majority (76%) said they should, with 28% indicating that they ‘agreed’ and 48% that they ‘totally agreed’. However, 6% did not agree with this statement, 7% neither agreed nor disagree, while 11% did not answer the question.

The question was asked whether ‘strong measures should be taken, even including strikes, in order to stop the violation of the collective agreements’.

The majority of employees (68%) said yes, strong measures should be taken. However, a relatively high proportion (13%) indicated that they neither agreed nor disagreed, which analysts believe reflected uncertainty on the employees’ side about the way in which breaches were addressed.

Another question asked whether workers were ready to support measures that would help reduce the number of breaches of the collective agreements. The survey showed 65% said they were determined to support the measures, whereas 15.5% were undecided. Of those undecided, 62% were women and 54% were Cypriots.

Of equal importance was the workers’ response to the statement that ‘the breaches of the collective agreements by the employers regarding immigrant workers were to the benefit of Cypriot hotel employees’. The survey showed 19% answered ‘yes’, and 18% said that they neither agreed nor disagreed, which was the biggest percentage given to this statement in the survey.

In the opinion of the authors of the survey, this revealed the employees’ confusion about the effects of collective agreement breaches in their workplaces. However, the majority (47%) disagreed with the statement.

Employees were asked who was to blame for collective agreement breaches in the hotel industry. This was a multiple-choice question and workers had the option of giving more than one answer. Their responses were restricted to the employers (37%), successive governments (19%), the trade union movement (13%), community workers (11%), and Cypriot workers (11%), while 10% did not know. When responses to this question were broken down according to gender, it emerged that women believed that employers were more to blame (56%) and most of those who believed that successive governments were to blame were men. The majority of those who blamed successive governments (71%) and the trade union movement (73%) were Cypriots.

Job satisfaction

Respondents were asked to say how satisfied they were with their jobs. The two responses ‘satisfied’ (32%) and ‘neither satisfied nor dissatisfied’ (32%) received the highest percentages. It may be significant that the two extreme statements, ‘very satisfied’ (7%) and ‘very dissatisfied’ (6%) received the lowest percentages. The majority of women (61%) and non-Cypriots (54%) appeared to be neither satisfied nor dissatisfied.

Commentary

Although the hotel industry is one of the most important sectors for the Cypriot economy, the survey shows that the characteristics of employment are not particularly attractive for workers. Workers can add to their plight frequent breaches of collective agreements by employers, who are most to blame for discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin in matters of employment and working conditions.

The survey reveals a need for immediate, drastic measures to be taken in order to combat breaches of the collective agreements and discrimination in the workplace. Action needs to come both from the state and trade union organisations. This is particularly necessary in the fragile and precarious economic environment brought about by the recent economic crisis.

Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute, INEK-PEO

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