Responsible Tourism is about the triple bottom line, economic, social and environment. At WTM in November we have panels on child protection, tourism for people with disabilities; and maximising local economic development. This week the issue of low pay for those in hospitality and tourism employment has been raised in London, in three different ways. There was a Channel 4 programme on What Happens in Kavos,which revealed what the holiday reps earn, and quite a lot about their working conditions.
Some will dismiss it as sensationalist, but the issue is being raised for tour operators as it was for the cruise industry in the Dispatches programme on labour conditions back in October 2012. The “world’s biggest industry” needs to respond and to be able to demonstrate that there are lots of good jobs in travel and tourism. The issue is not going to go away.
In Westminster on Wednesday night there was Parliamentary reception on tourism employment issues on “Preventing the Exploitation of Staff in UK Hotels” organised by Anti-Slavery International and the Institute for Human Rights and Business. Their Staff Wanted Initiative is gathering weight.
A cursory look on the web reveals that there are major issues around the terms and conditions of employees in the travel and tourism industry in many developing and developed country destinations around the world. Tourism Concern ran their Sun Sand Sea and Sweatshops .
But the issue about low wages is not only being raised by trade unionists. Ferdinand Mount is an Old Etonian and he was head of the Downing Street Policy Unit under Margaret Thatcher. Writing in the Evening Standard last Monday, Mount argues that companies, not the state, must now top up low wages.
This is obviously not only an issue for hotels and the travel and tourism industry – but the issue is not going to go away. Mount quotes the Jospeh Rowntree Foundation Research which reports that in the UK about 7 million working people are on some form of benefit, these are not scroungers on benefit about which we hear a great deal in the press. These are working people in low paid work. They are also employees being subsidised to work for employers who either cannot, or choose not, to pay a living wage. As Mount writes:
“Should the state top up the wages of low-paid workers? Almost overnight, this seems to have become a pressing question. There has even been a new word coined for it: “wob” or “workers on benefit”. The crude argument between “shirkers” and “strivers” is beginning to look secondary to the far costlier question: how much longer can the nation afford to spend so many billions on tax credits?”
However you choose to see the issue of tourism and employment, it is an issue which is not going to go away. The industry needs to think about how it is going to respond. Where do you think its responsibility lies?