A BBC investigation into the underpaying of cleaners who are employed by contractors Hotelcare to work at hotels in the Park Plaza chain has revealed that rooms are often not being cleaned properly because the room attendants are being pressured to clean too quickly.
Many organisations clean for presentation, but what they should be doing is cleaning for both presentation and hygiene, because the hygienic bit is the bit we don't see
Delia Cannings, British Institute of Cleaning Science
Newsnight hired a standard room at the Park Plaza County Hall Hotel, costing £155 per night.
We invited Delia Cannings, an expert from the British Institute of Cleaning Science, to examine the rooms, to give an assessment of how long it should take to clean the room to an appropriate standard, and how well they had actually been cleaned.
Ms Cannings brought an electronic meter designed to test for the presence of organic matter left on surfaces even after cleaning.
The equipment is commonly used in hospitals, hotels and catering establishments to check cleanliness.
ELECTRONIC METER READINGS
0-50 = very clean
50-100 = requires minor re-cleaning
100+ = significant amounts of dirt present
"It is not that the building doesn't look nice, it does, it is presented very well," she said, after a visual inspection. "There is my fear. Many organisations clean for presentation, but what they should be doing is cleaning for both presentation and hygiene, because the hygienic bit is the bit we don't see."
Some problems were immediately obvious to the untrained eye. In the bathroom there was a visible mould growing on the seal around the edge of the bath. The air vents were coated with thick dust, comprised mostly of millions of cells from body skin shed by previous guests.
Ms Cannings used a set of swabs to test surfaces. The electronic meter was then used to measure the quantity of organic matter - or to put it bluntly, bits of the last few guests, collected on the swabs.
The meter produced a reading. The higher the reading, the worse the contamination.
Testing hotel toilet hygiene level
Several surfaces were completely clean, with readings well under 50. They included the telephone, the cups, the taps, and the toilet. All of these areas had clearly been cleaned properly.
However all was not well elsewhere. Around the edge of the bath we recorded a reading of 3,578.
"That is completely unacceptable," Ms Cannings declared.
The corner of the shower produced a reading of 4,168, and the door handle for the main door in and out of the room also failed, with a reading of 379.
Several room attendants have told us that there were frequent shortages of cleaning chemicals and equipment.
The secret filming which we did revealed a lack of supplies in the stock cupboards. Old bathroom towels are recycled for use in cleaning, but sometimes neither towels nor cleaning cloths were available.
On these occasions supervisors tell room attendant to use the bathroom towels left by the guest for cleaning.
I wonder if the guests who rent these rooms, who pay large amounts of money, really know what happens in these hotels
Basia Mowisk, former Park Plaza room attendant
Ms Cannings was scathing in her assessment of the practice:
"How would you like to think you'd just made a cup of tea and drank out of a cup that had been cleaned and dried with a towel that's been up and down somebody's jacksy?" she asked.
"I don't think that's really inspiring. The towels that are in the bathroom are designed for the occupiers of the room to dry their body with - nothing else."
Room attendants told us they felt they had no other option but to use the bathroom towels on occasions.
Basia Mowiska, a 24-year-old room attendant from Poland, who had worked for Hotelcare at Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel, said she thought the hotel guests would be horrified if they knew what happened behind the scenes.
"I wonder if the guests who rent these rooms, who pay large amounts of money, really know what happens in these hotels," she said.
"How the girls are forced to work and what they have to go through to earn a crust of bread. I don't think that the hotel or the guests who stay there are aware of this situation."
Watch Newsnight's report in full on Thursday 30 July at 10.30pm on BBC Two.
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