By Carol Huang

DUBAI // Hotel employees are being fined for mistakes at work, with some lower-level workers charged several weeks’ wages by bosses.

The practice is standard operating procedure in many four-and five-star hotel chains, said seven employees who have 30 years of combined experience in more than a dozen companies in Dubai. Several asked not to be named to avoid repercussions.

The most common mistake was missed wake-up calls, causing travellers to miss flights, the workers said. Breakages were also punishable.

An operator who forgot a guest’s call was forced to pay Dh2,000 for a rebooking. Another faced the possibility of a Dh13,000 bill, the price of a seat on the next available flight to Washington, but was spared such expense at the last minute when a Dh600 seat opened up.

“They make it like that just to scare people, to teach them a lesson,” said one hotel manager.

“It’s very effective. The operator [who paid Dh2,000] never missed another wake-up call again.”
Any such penalty is a hardship for those in the lower levels of the pay scale. Some telephone operators make Dh1,200 per month, while some hotel bellmen, entrusted to handle expensive luggage and its contents, make Dh1,000 per month, less in many cases than the value of the objects they carry. Some staff pool their money to help one another avoid crippling charges.

At one five-star hotel, colleagues chipped in Dh1,500 to help a bellmen pay for a toy helicopter that he had broken. At another, employees donate about Dh10 a month to have mistakes fixed before their supervisors discover them.

“It’s like family,” said an employee. “If someone’s in trouble, everybody goes to help him.”

At the Arabian Courtyard in Bur Dubai, Grace Margareth, the front-office manager, passes the hat whenever a hefty charge arises, which has happened three times so far this year.

The 50 employees could raise as much as Dh300, she said.

However, she never collects to cover speeding tickets, even if they amount to hundreds of dirhams. “I don’t want to help people make mistakes,” she said.

Several prominent hotels – including The Address, Atlantis, Rotana, Fairmont, Westin and Crowne Plaza – declined to comment on whether they fine staff for mistakes.

Many hotels do not fine employees, several people in the industry said. One chain tries to appease disgruntled guests with free meals, internet access or an extra night’s stay rather than money. Some issue warning letters for the first or second offence or impose a six-month freeze on raises or promotions. Many determine fines case by case, judging between common errors and carelessness.

That does not keep workers from finding themselves out of pocket, however. A housekeeper earning Dh800 a month was charged Dh400 for throwing away an expensive bottle of liquor left behind in a room after the guest returned to fetch it, according to one hotel employee. A valet parking attendant who scratched a car was fined Dh1,000, even though the repair was covered by insurance.

Other charges include Dh300 for a housekeeper who breaks a lamp, Dh180 for a driver who arrives late to collect a guest at the airport and Dh100 for a receptionist who forgot to bill a couple for their dinner, according to the hotel workers.

The imposition of fines often depends on how insistent customers are in demanding compensation. With so many experienced travellers passing through Dubai, some did not hesitate to request perks – whether a free bottle of wine or a free ride to the airport – when staff made a mistake, several front-office employees said.

Some visitors defended their right to compensation, even if it came at another person’s expense. Ghazi al Mutari, a 40-year-old Kuwaiti customs official, said the problems of those making mistakes was not his concern.

Christine Wong, a teacher from Hong Kong, was more magnanimous. “If [the employee] did something wrong he has to pay,” said Ms Wong, 29. “But maybe the company can punish him in another way.”