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OPINION


STAFF EXPLOITATION Everyone’s talking about


In light of the inconsistency in therapist wages and pay packages, is the industry taking unfair advantage of its workforce?


I


t’s no secret that some spa operators find it hard to attract (and keep) high quality therapists. Many say the reason for this is because the sector is growing so quickly that there aren’t enough


staff for the number of new openings. But could part of the reason for these problems also be down to the lack of consistency in therapist pay and pay packages? An informal survey conducted by


consultant Lisa Starr in April this year highlighted the disparities in therapist salaries, benefits and pay packages around the world (see Spa Business Handbook 2014 p88). The survey, which was based on 38 countries, showed that monthly salaries for therapists are as low as US$116 in Vietnam and as high as US$5,008 in Switzerland. Benefits differ greatly too. Beyond provid- ing minimum wages, employers in most countries aren’t required to offer any kind of benefit such as sick pay or paid holidays. As there’s no single standard, does this give operators more power? The variations are particularly notice-


able in the US. The 2014 Spa & Wellness Compensation Trends Survey by the US Day Spa Association shows that there are up to 10 different pay structures for therapists in the country. They range from a straight salary to an hourly variable or commission on services where workers get up to 50 per cent of the price of the treatments they perform. Commission can be ‘creative’, with employers controlling the structure and offering more or less to those who reach set benchmarks, such as high levels of repeat customers. The recession led to increases in the


number of part-time employees, especially in the US and the UK. In the US, there’s been a marked shift from full-time employment, which is down 7.2 per cent, to part-time employment, which was up 13.2 per cent according to the 2013 ISPA US Spa Industry Study (see SB13/4 p48). A large number of therapists in the country are independent contractors, on a 1099 contract, meaning


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There are up to 10 different pay structures for therapists in the US


they pay full tax (rather than split this with an employer) and receive few benefits. Notably, the 2013 Trends® in the Hotel Spa Industry report by PKF (see SB14/1 p62) showed that expenses/benefits for therapists in US hotels is 6.8 per cent less than other hotel employees. In the UK, 1.4 million workers are


employed on zero-hour contracts. Under these agreements, employees are obliged to be available for work on an on call basis with no guarantee of hours or other benefits. This is useful for spa operators who can have a pool of therapists on standby to help with last-minute bookings and some therapists prefer the flexibility. Yet for workers with mortgages and a family to support, unpredictable hours


and earnings offer little job security. It also makes it difficult for the operator to deliver a consistent service and does little to encourage staff loyalty, bringing the discussion back full circle. We ask a number of industry


representatives whether they think the non-structured way therapists are remunerated, and the rise in part-time/ zero-hour employees, is cause for concern.


Katie Barnes is the managing editor of Spa Business Email: katiebarnes@ spabusiness.com Tel: +44 (0)1462 471 925 Twitter: @SpaBusinessKB


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