Poverty wages are being paid to thousands of hotel staff across central London as hoteliers use falling takings to resist calls to raise salaries.
This claim, from Unite - the union - and lobby group London Citizens, comes at the start of a campaign to persuade the capital's hotels to meet the London Living Wage of £7.45 an hour for all employees.
Currently the lowest paid workers, such as cleaners, house-keepers and porters, survive on the statutory minimum hourly rate of £5.73.
But Unite says that figure can be reduced further when unpaid overtime is taken into account as staff are frequently told to clean a certain number of rooms before they leave work.
Campaigners are seeking the backing of Boris Johnson to heighten pressure on the hoteliers, after he raised the London Living Wage 25p an hour in April last year, hailing the measure as "morally right".
Kevin Curran, Unite chair of the central London hotel workers' branch, said paying hotel staff more than the minimum wage would lead to higher motivation, reduce staff turnover and improve the service customers receive.
Urging London's major hotel operators to sign a charter to increase wages in line with the cost of living in the capital, Mr Curran said: "What we have now is workers being paid Dickensian wages to survive in London.
"Hotels are addicted to the low pay model, which means routine exploitation of the vulnerable workers - who are frequently migrants - by big hotel companies.
"Hotels say they work on tight margins and raising wages will hit their profits. But their profits are huge as it is and we're asking for a little bit more investment in staff in the short-term in return for higher standards in the future."
Unite and London Citizens uncovered a catalogue of complaints from workers interviewed at several major three star hotels in central London. They will present a report of their findings to MPs at the House of Commons on Wednesday.
The 'Rooms for Change' report includes claims that staff are:
Asked to work overtime without extra pay
Locked into poverty by the low wages
Treated without respect
Given little training and career development
Suffer low morale and are fearful of complaining.
In addition to the pay hike for the lowest paid hotel staff, the report recommends staff be given at least 20 days holiday a year (plus bank holidays); 10 sick days on full pay and allowed to join unions without fear of being sacked.
London Citizens, an alliance of grassroots community organisations, says the report is the start of a long campaign to force hotels to change their ways.
"Hotels blame the employment agencies for asking for too much for each staff member. Agencies blame hotels. They say the recession means they can not afford to raise wages," said Marzena Cichon of London Citizens.
"The result is people struggling to survive in one of the world's most expensive cities. This can not be the best way to show guests London. Our aim is to have an agreement in place by the time of the Olympics comes around."
The report praises the Hilton Group for taking steps to improve terms and conditions for its staff, but said the majority of hotel operators have refused to make changes or engage with the campaign aims.
The British Hospitality Association, the trade organisation for the UK's hotels, says many hard-pressed hotels could fold if they are forced to raise wages.
Thirty per cent of hotel overheads come from staff wages and many would face ruin if they had to pay the additional £2, a spokesman said.
"Hotels are always wary of conceding wages of this magnitude. It would be more bearable during the boom years, but this campaign is just not helpful during a recession. If we are not careful there will be no jobs at all."
Hotel revenue is down between 10 and 18 per cent in London so far this year.