Stitched-up: striking Paris hotel chambre maids mount catwalk protest

13 photos

When the Paris Fashion Week opened this week to the usual glitzy catwalk shows of next year’s haute couture spring and summer designs for the happy few, just a mile away from the venue an unhappy group of sub-contracted workers serving the luxury Park Hyatt hotel held a counter ‘sidewalk show’ of their own, in a protest over pay and “deplorable” working conditions. On part-time contracts that they claim in reality bordered full-time working hours, they began an unlimited strike on September 20th to demand overtime payment, full-time working contracts and a yearly bonus payment. In this reportage of still photos, video and audio, photographer Patrick Artinian captured the anything-but-dull défilé outside the embarrassed hotel on the chic rue de la Paix.

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  1. © Patrick Artinian

    September 24th, rue de la Paix in central Paris:  the chamber maids turned up to give their own take on the Paris Fashion Week which had opened at the Carrousel du Louvre the same morning. They gathered in a carnival-like atmosphere close to the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme five-star hotel where they were working for a sub-contractor company called Française de services. In a statement issued by the CGT trades union, they described their working conditions as “deplorable” and denounced the hotel as the only one with an official top-rated ‘Palace’ designation in the capital to use sub-contracted staff.

  2. © Patrick Artinian

    The demonstrators’ main demands were the payment of overtime, full-time working contracts and the yearly payment of an extra month’s earnings, a regularly-practiced bonus system in France’s private sector and which is known as ‘le 13e mois’. One of the protestors, Laurette, 27, explained that she began working at the hotel three years ago on a part-time five-hour working day contract with the sub-contractor, Française de services. She says she now works six hours per day for a monthly salary of 1,050 euros. She wants to be given a full-time job.

  3. © Patrick Artinian

    Move over, Karl Lagerfeld: of the total of 65 people who are officially engaged at the hotel as sub-contract workers, 55 joined the strike that began on September 20th, according to Claude Levy, CGT trades union official responsible for the union’s hotel workers’ branch, organizer of the protest along with the CNT union.

  4. © Patrick Artinian

    One of the Park Hyatt’s housekeepers, Laura, assisted the street protest in support of the chambermaids. Her daily task is looking after the rooms on one floor of the hotel, with a team of four chamber maids who she says are underpaid in comparison to other luxury hotels in the French capital. The strikers say the hotel knowingly chose to engage the services of a sub-contractor and demanded that the chamber maids be included on the Park Hyatt’s own payroll.  

  5. © Patrick Artinian

    The Park Hyatt’s management placed the responsibility for the workers’ conditions on the sub-contractor company. “Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme is not at all part of the ongoing conflict between the service supplier and its employees,” said the hotel in a statement. “We quite obviously regret this situation and without seeking to become involved in what is strictly an issue for our service supplier we have indicated to it our wish to see a rapid end [to the conflict] reached through an agreement with the employees, in the interest of both parties.”

  6. © Patrick Artinian

    “Through its contempt for the strikers, the management of the Park Hyatt carries the responsibility for a heavy loss of turnover [that would have been] generated by the Fashion Week”, read a statement issued by the demonstrators.

  7. © Patrick Artinian

    Some of the hotel’s baggage handlers and valets joined the fashion-mocking protest. One of the valets, Samuel, 28, who has served as a sub-contracted worker at the hotel for two years on a six-hour day part-time contract, said that many chamber maids were officially on five-hour per day contracts but in reality worked seven hours. “There are lots of chamber maids who are mothers,” he said. “I myself am a father. It’s not possible that a hotel that generates millions [of euros] cannot correctly pay its staff. It’s not right and, above all, it’s not legal.”  

    Ecouter le témoignage de Samuel

  8. © Patrick Artinian

    The protestors saluted the curious bystanders they drew, to the embarrassment of the hotel, in this chic central Paris neighbourhood, where they staged their protest from 8.30 a.m. until 4p.m. (see also video below).


    © Mediapart

  9. © Patrick Artinian

    Débora, pictured, is the CGT union organiser for the chamber maids who work at the hotel. It was her idea to stage the counter-Fashion Week event. One of the demands she has set out includes the installment of an electronic clocking-on machine for her colleagues so that their extra working hours can qualify for overtime payments.

    Ecouter le témoignage de Débora

  10. © Patrick Artinian
  11. © Patrick Artinian

    The result of the high-profile protest ended the next day in what the CGT called “an initial victory for the chamber maids”. According to the union, the hotel’s management, while refusing to include the sub-contracted workers on its payroll, has agreed that they would be re-employed as staff of a different service provider with whom full-time contracts would be offered to all those wanting one, along with the payment to all of a yearly bonus equivalent to one month’s earnings.

  12. © Patrick Artinian

    The breakthrough had come during the afternoon when officials of the CGT and CNT unions were invited to a meeting with the new service provider company. Meanwhile, a report by French daily 20 Minutes quoted one unnamed client of the hotel as saying he was “aghast” at the protest, adding “all that gets in the way of doing business”.

  13. © Patrick Artinian

    Two worlds colliding: the neighbourhood of the rue de la Paix is studded with fashionable boutiques and top-end jewelers’ stores. Not for nothing is the rue de la Paix the prize property card of the French version of Monopoly.

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