English lessons for Hilton Hotel Workers

The London Central Hotel Workers Branch of Unite the Union have been working with West London Citizens (a division of London Citizens), to which they are affiliated, for two years to organise hotel workers.

Following early meetings with individual workers at the Paddington Hilton and The Metropole it became evident that there were strong collective concerns.Uppermost was the low level of wages and the lack of dignity and respect that they experienced from management and some guests.

Most of the workers are employed by agencies and paid the national minimum wage issues which we cover in our Living Wage campaign for hotel workers.

In conversation it also became clear that workers felt that their lack of language skills prevented them from knowing and exercising what rights they had and from "sticking up for themselves". Alongside this was the desire to be able to converse with guests so as to provide a better service.

Many workers were very tired at the end of the day and found it difficult to track down opportunities to learn English. Equally many of them could not afford to pay for lessons even if they found provision.
WLC and the Unite branch worked together to provide lessons based on the workers provisos that they had to be free, located near to their place of work and start soon after the end of their shift.
Lewisham College Trade Union Studies department put Unite in touch with Lewisham College ESOL dept. and The TUC Vulnerable Workers Project. Lewisham agreed to provide the peripatetic tutors and the VWP some funding.

WLC found a suitable location in Paddington when Our Lady of The Rosary generously allowed the use of their parish hall.

Everything was set and using our contacts with the workers to spread the word enrolment started in September 2007.

From day one a relaxed and friendly atmosphere was established with tea/coffee and biscuits made available at break time. The workers soon made clear their appreciation at having their own space and time to learn the language of their host country.

By the end of the course on June 19th, 12 students were still enrolled, 7 of whom had been in at the beginning. Of the students who left the course several had left the hotels they were working at either for new employment or to return to their countries.
At the end of the course the students who took an ESB Speaking and Listening exam which they passed recording results in the 80s and 90s.

All also expressed a desire to continue with their studies.

Unite and London Citizens are delighted with what they believe to be a successful initiative and will endeavour to develop this service to hotel workers in other parts of London.

This success was possible because of a collective civic effort from all the parties concerned however it poses a challenge to the Government and hotel employers as to when are they going to peick up their moral and economic responsibilities to the workers who to quote the Mayor of London constitute the "backbone of the London economy".

If you know of any hotel workers who wish to learn English contact;
Kevin Curran, Chair - Unite the Union London Central Hotel Workers Branch