An undercover investigation has shown a housekeeper being told to use the same guest towel to clean entire bathrooms - including the toilet - at one of Britain's biggest hotel chains, reports Daily Mail.

Covert filming by Channel 4's Dispatches team at a Premier Inn branch near London Bridge reveals the unhygienic cleaning practices using an undercover reporter called "Irina", who is also told to take on unpaid work in order to meet room-cleaning targets, meaning she is paid below the national living wage.

The shocking revelations emerged after she joined the housekeeping team at the London Bridge property in December 2017. She was employed by a cleaning contractor called ISS, although she was given a Premier Inn uniform to wear.

The London Bridge Premier Inn that C4 investigated, at 135 Borough High Street. Photo / Google
The London Bridge Premier Inn that C4 investigated, at 135 Borough High Street. Photo / Google

Unhygienic cleaning practices

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One allegation made in the documentary, fronted by Morland Sanders, is that housekeepers are given unrealistic targets for the number of rooms they have to clean in a shift.

In the show, the undercover Dispatches reporter is unable to keep time on her rooms so the head housekeeper pairs her up with the fastest cleaner in the hotel.

Footage then shows this cleaner showing the reporter a way to speed up her cleaning - by using a single dirty towel discarded by the previous guest, to clean the entire bathroom, including the toilet.

This is despite the fact the reporter was told in her training at ISS that the rule is to use different cloths for the toilet, bath and sink.

In one exchange, the reporter asks: "Aren't we supposed to use a different cloth for all the different areas we're cleaning for instance a yellow cloth for the toilet?"

But the cleaner replies: "No, just one towel that's it."

And when the undercover housekeeper questions her saying: "Just one towel for everything?"

The cleaner adds: "Yes. If anyone comes and asks you, you tell them that this is the way you actually do it. You say you're using this for that and this for that and so on."

Unpaid hours

Meanwhile as well as being trained by ISS, the cleaning contractor also told the undercover reporter she would be paid £7.50 per hour - the national minimum wage.

According to the documentary, Irina was only able to clean a room in less than 20 minutes when cleaning
According to the documentary, Irina was only able to clean a room in less than 20 minutes when cleaning "stayovers", rooms where guests were staying another night. Photo / dailymail.co.uk

However for this she would need to clean the equivalent of three rooms per hour, no matter the size or dirtiness, prepare her cleaning trolley, attend a daily unpaid meeting and sign for a half-hour break whether taken or not.

With the additional tasks required outside of shift and the extra amount of time it took to clean certain types of rooms, it meant Irina's hourly pay actually equated to less than £5 an hour, well below the national living wage.

According to the documentary, during her employment Irina is only able to clean a room in less than 20 minutes when cleaning 'stayovers', rooms where guests were staying another night.

These rooms were generally less dirty and did not require bed sheets to be changed.

However some of the rooms she was given took a lot longer than the time she was allocated.

In her eight days working at Premier Inn, at 135 Borough High Street, Irina worked a minimum of nearly an hour extra, and two hours on occasion.

In one exchange, the head housekeeper tells the undercover reporter that if she is struggling with the amount of time it is taking her to clean rooms, she should make up the time with stayovers.

Another time Irina asks the head housekeeper what she should do if she ends up working overtime.

She is told: "If you stay over time for like two hours nobody is paying you. You must finish your rooms in time. The time is allocated for the number of rooms you have."

The undercover reporter says: "I've got a family room of four. I couldn't do a family room of four in 20 minutes."

The head housekeeper says: "So Irina I need to explain something to you. A family of four or three no matter who is doing it, it needs to get done in 20 minutes."

Later in the show, the undercover reporter tells Irina that she should arrive an hour early if she wants to complete her shift on time.

The head housekeeper says: "At 8 o'clock, you have to come and prepare your trolley."

Dispatches presenter Morland Sanders, whose team found housekeepers using unhygienic cleaning practices. Photo / dailymail.co.uk
Dispatches presenter Morland Sanders, whose team found housekeepers using unhygienic cleaning practices. Photo / dailymail.co.uk

But when the undercover reporter questions if she will be paid between 8am and 9am, the head housekeeper replies: "No one is paying you between eight and nine. Nobody's paying the other girls or me."

But that's not the only unpaid work the undercover reporter has to do. The documentary claims that each morning Irina is told to sign for a half-hour break - even if she can't take it.

Irina tells two of the housekeepers: "I'm not going to mark my break, because I haven't taken it."

One replies saying: "Well, you should mark it because it's mandatory."

While another adds: "Yes 30 minutes, even if we don't take it. Do you really think we are taking any breaks?"

Premier Inn says it is in the process of investigating these allegations and its findings will be addressed directly with ISS.

It told Dispatches: "The serious allegations in today's programme concern staff working for ISS, a multi-national company that provides outsourced housekeeping services at a small minority of our hotels."

"As a responsible business we take our commitment to the people who work for us extremely seriously. We were very concerned to hear allegations of poor working practices by ISS at one of our hotels. We are in the process of investigating these allegations and our findings will be addressed directly with ISS."

"We insist all suppliers work to robust standards that fully cover the rights of all team members. We will take whatever action is necessary to resolve any issues and we do not tolerate suppliers who breach employment law or fail to meet the standards that our guests rightly expect."

"At the vast majority of our 780 hotels, we directly employ our housekeeping teams. None of these have been the subject of any allegations in the programme."

"We have strict cleaning procedures and training, and the times we allocate to room cleaning have been proven over many years. We do not set a target of three rooms cleaned per hour. We ensure every room is cleaned to the exacting standards expected by our guests. That's why around 95 per cent of guests give us a four or five-star rating for cleanliness."

"We reject any notion that we put undue pressure on our hard-working, committed teams. We run the business in a balanced way with a primary focus on delighting guests through outstanding service delivered by outstanding teams. As part of this, the majority of a manager's bonus is dependent on guest and team feedback."

"Our people are our number one priority and the facts bear this out. We are consistently voted one of the UK's best companies to work for. We ensure that all of our team-members are paid the National Living Wage or above."

"We offer industry-leading training and development and provide real opportunities for great careers. As a result, we have record employee engagement scores, industry-low team turnover and have recently featured in the Sunday Times Best Companies survey."

Dispatches has not yet received a formal statement for publication from ISS, but has been told the programme is not representative of its policies, operation or the working conditions of its staff.

It added that filming took place at just one hotel over a few days between Christmas and New Year and the Dispatches' journalist's purported experience is not representative of its genuine staff.

Charlotte Bence, from the union Unite, said: "Unite has a wealth of experience representing people who work in different chains who have experienced the same kind of problems you've identified at Premier Inn. Unite's position however is that as a leading hospitality brand within the UK as a FTSE 100 company, Whitbread has a responsibility and should lead by example."

The Legal view on unpaid hours

Dispatches showed the footage to employment lawyer Catherine Raynor who said: 'If somebody is a worker and she's doing a job then she's entitled to be paid for it. It's really quite simple.

'If she turns up an hour before because they require her to turn up an hour before and she's doing things associated with her work. That's working time. She's entitled under the regulations and the legislation to be paid.'

What are the allegations made in the documentary?

• Housekeeping would use the same dirty discarded guest towel to clean the entire bathroom - even the area around the toilet.
• Staff would have to take on unpaid hours to make sure they cleaned every room they were assigned and hit daily targets.
&bull: The undercover housekeeper was told she would have to arrive for her shift an hour early so she would have time to prep her cleaning trolley.
• Housekeepers would have to attend a daily meeting - even though it takes place 30 minutes before their shift starts.
• Staff have to sign to say they have taken a 30-minute break - even if they are unable to do so because of their workload.

How ISS responded to the allegations

According to cleaning contractor ISS, it says it is committed to carrying out its business responsibly with all relevant laws.

It also added:

• It has robust procedures in place to ensure that the welfare of its workers is protected
• It pays the cleaners at the hotel in accordance with the National Living Wage rates
• Staff at the hotel are paid by the hour and not by the number of rooms cleaned
• Employees are not expected to work outside of their contractual hours for no additional pay, its policy is that every hour worked by an employee is paid
• As a matter of policy and practice requires staff to take their breaks for welfare reasons
• Has in place high standards of hygiene for all its cleaning operations
• Focuses on comprehensive training to ensure all employees are made aware of the cleaning procedures and standards.