It is not just about the environment… employees matter too

Responsible Tourism is about the triple bottom line, economic, social and environment. At WTM in November we had panels on child protection, social inclusion looking at how we extend the opportunity to take a holiday to people with disabilities and low incomes; and maximising local economic development.

This week the issue of low pay in the tourism and hospitality industry 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. 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 a Parliamentary reception 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 employment  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  some time ago.

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, 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?

In yesterday’s Evening Standard Amol Rajan, one of the paper’s regular columnists was arguing that  “All our city’s workers deserve the London Living Wage”

“It was at the annual general meeting of HSBC in Canary Wharf on May 30, 2003 that Ferdinand Mount, author of the 1983 Tory manifesto, heard Abdul Durrant, a cleaner and father of three from Hackney, ask to be paid a living wage.

That set off the process of reflection and study that culminated in Mount eloquent and erudite defence of a living wage on these pages last week.

Mount may be supposed, together with Roger Scruton, successor to Maurice Cowling and Michael Oakeshott as the foremost English conservative intellectual of his generation. It is hard to overstate the significance of his latest intervention.

At last, the Right in Britain is waking up to taxpayer subsidy for the corporate sector. By suppressing wages, corporations could boast they create jobs aplenty. But they also require the state to pay vast amounts in welfare, principally through tax credits. This would be a scandal in a time of plenty, let alone austerity. A living wage not only recapitalises the very poor — to use a prematurely abandoned phrase — by raising their incomes; it also reduces the burden on the rest of us by helping to take them out of a benefits trap.

Boris Johnson, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Iain Duncan Smith – Cameron in May 2010 declared that the Living Wage is “an idea whose time has come.”

The Living Wage is calculated to be £8.30 per hour in London and £7.20 outside of London.

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