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Fired houseworkers file human rights complaint against Vancouver hotel

Click to play video: 'Hotel workers union files human rights complaint against Pan Pacific Hotel' Hotel workers union files human rights complaint against Pan Pacific Hotel
The hotel workers union has filed a human rights complaint against Vancouver's Pan Pacific Hotel, alleged that its decision to fire employees at the beginning of the pandemic disproportionately affected women of colour. Christa Dao reports – Oct 19, 2021

More than a dozen hotel housekeepers and supporters protested outside the Pan Pacific Vancouver on Tuesday, alleging it discriminated racialized women in a pandemic “firing spree.”

Last year, the Westmont Hospitality Group, owner of the luxury downtown hotel, let go of about 100 long-term employees of the company. Most of them were housekeepers.

Of the women who were laid off, 94 per cent were racialized, according to UNITE HERE Local 40, a labour union representing workers in the province’s hotel, food service and airport industries.

Global News reached out to the Pan Pacific Vancouver and Westmont Hospitality Group several times by phone and email but received no response. The houseworkers’ allegations have not been proven.

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“These women’s jobs were their bread and butter,” said union organizer Sana Poornasi at the rally.

“How dare they treat these workers after being so loyal to this company and fire them overnight during the pandemic that no one saw coming.”

On Tuesday morning, the houseworkers filed a complaint of sex and race-based discrimination against the Pan Pacific Vancouver to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The complaint acknowledges there is a “high proportion” of women and racialized women in the hotel workforce, but says now, they make up less than 40 per cent of the hotel’s remaining staff.

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According to the union, there were 250 hourly employees at the hotel before the pandemic, but of the 100 people fired, the majority were racialized women.

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“The Respondent used its limited resources to maintain staffing in male-dominated job categories, retaining more than half of its all-male maintenance team,” reads the complaint.

Rather than extending the layoff period, the complaint adds, the Pan Pacific Hotel chose to terminate the women’s employment.

“Westmont why won’t you commit to bringing us back?” asked Stephanie Dan, who worked at the Pan Pacific Vancouver for seven years. “This is racism and sexism and it’s not fair.”

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Poornasi said Westmont tried to avoid paying severance to laid off employees, and the hotel has been uncooperative in the union’s efforts to find a solution, such as compensation for lost wages, or a commitment to rehire the women when hospitality sector conditions stabilize.

“How I got kicked out of the hotel feels like how my ancestors got kicked out their land 100 years ago,” said Dan.

“This land belongs to Squamish Nation before they were forced out of their homes and it happened to me at the Pan Pacific.”

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The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has not yet decided whether the complaint constitutes possible discrimination.

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If it does, it will notify Pan Pacific Vancouver, which can then agree to settle with the houseworkers, respond to the complaint or apply for a dismissal.

“(The tribunal is) looking at factors like, is it just people of specific ethnicity that got terminated, is it just people of a certain gender that got terminated,” said Jenson Leung, an employment lawyer at Samfiru Tumarkin LLIP in Vancouver.

“Is it that this discussion was already happening, and it was based on genuine financial reasons?”

Leung does not represent any of the parties involved in the complaint.

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