Fear and Loathing at Club Med: Workers Describe Bizarre Working Conditions at Exclusive Québec Resort
Club Med insists its employees ‘voluntarily’ dine and hang out with guests based on truly ‘genuine relationships’
This article was originally published by Pivot, an independent, non-profit francophone news outlet based in Québec — PressProgress and Pivot are working together to translate and republish each other’s stories.
It was bound to happen.
Following our original investigation into Club Med, the all-inclusive giant that recently opened a resort village in Québec, several activity facilitators contacted Pivot to tell us about their experience working in the Charlevoix and elsewhere.
As result, we’ve added new information to the Club Med file, and this time, it comes to us directly from those individuals, commonly called “Gracious Organizers” (GOs), who’ve had the famous “Club Med experience” — long working hours, mandatory participation in cocktail hour, and the requirement that they dine with the clients.
In January, a statement by Claudine, an aspiring GO, allowed us to highlight the working conditions at Club Med.
“You don’t work at Club Med to make money,” she was told during her job interview. Indeed, GOs are required to participate in Village life (cocktail hour, meals with clients, shows, etc.). Long hours spent working overtime which are unpaid.
The response from the all-inclusive multinational following publication of the survey: Yes, but participation in Village life is voluntary!
In an interview with the newspaper Le Charlevoisien, Olivier Rozier, Club Med’s human resources director for North America and the Caribbean, went so far as to state that “it is wrong to claim that they are required to participate in parties or have a meal with the Great Members (guests) after working hours.”
Voluntary? Really? That’s not exactly what former GOs from the Charlevoix and elsewhere have told us.
Village life according to schedule
Veronique worked as a GO in Florida and the Caribbean from 2018 to 2021. She told us that during her job interview she was told Village life amounted to approximately two hours a day. “It’s on our schedule,” she said. “We would be scheduled ‘aperitif shift’.”
It just so happens Pivot obtained a copy of the weekly schedule at a Club Med. It contains a very clear warning: “Remember that your role as a GO is first and foremost to connect with our GMs (guests) … Some of you are playing the game and others not so much. Take this week to correct this if you are in the latter…”
On the same schedule, it says that at 20:30 and 20:50, activities are indicated as “AGO” (‘All GOs’). This means they are compulsory, according to sources who contacted Pivot.
Pivot acquired a copy of another message which mentions that in order to allow more GOs to be present for a longer period of time, the cocktail hour would be divided into two “shifts” and that managers would decide who goes at what time. This message does not mention whether this activity is voluntary or not.
Alex, who worked in Florida recently, says that GOs were required to stay at the bar until 10:30 pm. If someone left before then, they were publicly reprimanded by a supervisor in the group messaging system used by GOs.
Chantale also told us about the pressure. She has worked as a GO in several Club Med villages, including the one in the Charlevoix.
The company “dominates you through fear,” she told us, and “if you don’t do what you’re asked to do, they won’t give you another contract.”
This point was supported by Veronique, who reported that although the company says Village life is not compulsory, if you don’t participate “you are told ‘we won’t renew your contract.'”
What about at Club Med Charlevoix? Gabrielle, who worked there, explains that during her time there, due to COVID-19, Village life did not involve that many hours, as several activities were not permitted due to health measures. For this GO who also worked in the Caribbean, “it’s hard to speak for Club Med Charlevoix, because we couldn’t do much, but normally it’s mandatory. If you don’t do it, you get kicked out.”
We were able to speak by video conference with Rozier, who maintains that GOs are not required to participate in Village life. We told him about the statements made by former GOs. He explained that the GO experience is deeply personal, although “there are associates who have a different reading from mine.”
“Forcing people to eat with clients when they don’t want to makes no sense,” Rozier said. “These interactions (with clients) are based on a genuine relationship,” he added. “We’re not going to say to associates: I expect this from you.” He also added that “every company can have its detractors.”
In an email exchange, Rozier also told us that “Village life is what happens outside the GOs’ residence. As the GOs are housed on the site, when they leave their residence, they’re likely to run into our clients any place they go.” He added: “Each GO can, if they wish, take part in the village’s various activities, have a drink, eat dinner, or ski with the clients. This way, each GO may become involved in Village life as they wish.”
Hunting for your meal
In January, we reported remarks made by Jérémie Hoss, Club Med’s marketing director. He explained the presence of employees at customer meals was “a very old Club Med tradition that revolves around friendliness and sociability.” What we learned is that this tradition is in fact an obligation.
The GOs we spoke to all said that they had witnessed pressure at mealtimes. In an employee handbook, obtained by Pivot, it states that “you are expected to host our GMs during meals in the Main Restaurant. In order for this to happen you are expected to have a maximum of 3 GOs per table (in some villages 2). You are also expected to find GMs to sit with. It is not up to the GMs to find you…”
“The idea is to find someone at cocktail hour who will want to have dinner with you,” explains Frédérique, who worked at Club Med Ixtapa Pacific on Mexico’s west coast. Some GOs find that easy, but for this young woman, it took a lot of effort. “You’re hunting for your dinner,” she objects.
For Frederique, who was a Mini Club (children’s activities) facilitator, eating with the kids was, to a certain extent, a relief. “What I really hated about Club Med was that when you’re a GO, you eat with the guests,” she says. “That’s not optional. It’s not ‘if you can’t find anyone to eat with you, no problem, go eat by yourself.’ There’s a lot of pressure. There were times when I didn’t go to eat dinner.”
“You get room and board, but there were times when I ate ramen in my room,” Frederique said.
At the Sandpiper Bay resort in Florida, eating with guests was not optional either, but altogether mandatory, says Alex: “If you didn’t find anyone and you got along well with your manager, you could maybe eat in the back. But you would have to text your manager and apologize.”
“It can’t happen again,” she says. “Otherwise, they will fire you.”
Alex usually had dinner with the children. But “on days when there weren’t many children, they sent us to fend for ourselves.”
“On the days when there were not enough kids, they would send half of us to go fend for ourselves. We would have to find someone,” she reports. “It’s like the first day of school every night.”
Veronique says she used to hide little boxes of cereal so that she’d have something to eat at night. “You can meet really wonderful, lovely people who want you to come and have dinner with them,” she says. “Or it can be really awkward.” Often, she simply didn’t eat. Although GOs were not allowed to take food out of the dining room, “we totally did,” she says. “I would see GOs make a sandwich and wrap it in a napkin and stick it in their bag.”
Rozier says there is no such obligation in the Charlevoix: “We don’t supervise mealtimes; everyone is free to decide where they want to eat and with whom.”
Long working hours, even without counting Village life
Claudine’s interview at the Club Med Charlevoix made it clear that, including Village life, the number of working hours was over 40 per week. “Yes, you’re going to do your 40 hours with the kids, but life at Club Med is the Club Med experience, and you mustn’t count your hours,” the recruiter had told Claudine.
But the accounts we have received since then have shown us that, even without counting the time spent during Village life, GOs work very long hours. In Mexico, Frédérique was employed as a Mini Club facilitator before being transferred to another position at the same site. She says that working with the children did not stop at 5 pm. She had dinner with them and looked after them in the evening in addition to taking part in cocktail hour, dinners, and activities on the dance floor at the bar.
In a video conference interview, she described her daily routine as a GO: “I started at 8:30 am and was not allowed to leave the bar before 11:30 pm. I had a lunch break from noon to 1 pm in my room, and another break from 5 pm to 7 pm, where I was in my room. The rest of the time I was working.” As a result, she worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week.
Although GOs have access to facilities, such as the gym or sailing, according to Frédérique, “you don’t have the energy for that because you’re completely burnt out. Your day off, you sleep until 1 pm.”
In addition to her days at the Mini Club, which amounted to 45 hours of work per week, she said that “in Mexico, the GOs for the children provided a daycare period, before and after dinner. It doesn’t matter how you spin it, you’re working. There is no such thing as paid overtime,” she said.
In the evenings, Frédérique had dinner with the children when the parents wanted to be alone. “Sometimes… like every day,” she said with a laugh.
Club Med is a “way of life”
At Club Med Charlevoix, Rozier asserts that all overtime is counted as time and a half. The GOs then have the option of receiving payment for these hours or taking them as vacation time.
“We offer a way of life,” Rozier told us. He explained that Club Med provides an opportunity to travel and that the company offers training and opportunities for advancement. “I’m really committed to the idea of a company where people can discover themselves personally and professionally. It’s an experience in personal growth.”
Despite the difficulties, Frédérique admits that the experience was not all bad: “It would be so much fun if you worked normal hours, or got paid for the hours you work.”
“You do it because you love it,” says Veronique. “If you don’t love it, it’s not going to last.” This GO expressed the same ambivalence that we noted in other GOs that we met: “It’s a mixed bag. I met my best friends there. I still have a ton of friends from my time there. I have a lot of cool stories, but also some really bad stories.”
The same goes for Alex: “The entire time, we were completely aware we were being exploited by the company. But just because we were doesn’t mean there wasn’t an element of fun.” She says she met nice clients whom she stayed in contact with. “Most of my best friends are people that I’ve worked with at Club Med,” she says. “It’s true that it’s a lifestyle and you don’t do it for the money. Just because I found joy doesn’t make it OK.
The Minister of Labour would have the right to call for an investigation
Following the publication of our investigation, the company announced that it would provide better training for those responsible for recruitment.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be a GO,” Rozier told us in an interview. He added that the person we heard in our recording “was a young recruiter, who tended to be overly expressive.”
When asked about Pivot‘s revelations, Tourism Minister Caroline Proulx stated in a press release, “I have indeed been made aware of the situation and we will look into it.”
Two weeks later, following an email in which we inquired about the result of these investigations, the Minister’s office simply replied that “the CNESST invites workers who feel that one of their rights has not been respected to file a complaint with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail, which can then conduct an investigation.”
We made an access to information request regarding communications between the Ministry of Tourism and Club Med or Groupe le Massif. We were told that “the Ministry of Tourism does not have any documents” on this subject. We therefore do not know if, or how, the Minister has carried out the investigation, as she had promised.
However, we have learned from communications between the Ministry and the CNESST that “the CNESST will indeed investigate following the filing of a complaint and (that) an investigation could also be carried out if the Minister (of Labour Jean Boulet) so requests.”
The CNESST could not tell us whether complaints had been filed or whether an investigation was underway.
Antoine Leclerc-Loiselle, spokesperson for the CNESST, explained that “complaints in matters of labour standards and their treatment are confidential throughout the process, including their outcome. It is essential for the CNESST to support the exercise of employees’ rights and to protect those who file complaints from possible reprisals.”
Sylvain Lacroix, spokesperson for the Teamsters Union, says that the issues raised by our investigation will be part of the discussions during the negotiation process that is beginning. The union has assembled a negotiating committee and hopes to sign a contract as soon as possible. Out of respect for the process, the union will not comment on specific issues.
The Teamsters Union represents the Club Med Charlevoix’s “gracious employees” (GEs), who do not live on the site.
The GOs, on the other hand, are not unionized.
Editor’s Note: To protect the identity of sources, some names have been changed. All of these GOs have worked for the company in various Caribbean villages or in North America over the past four years.
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