Tourism in a Time of Crisis

Karen Doyle and Julia Marciniak from Unite Hospitality & Tourism branch take a look at the conditions workers face in Ireland’s Tourism sector.

Cliffs of Moher Co. Clare

What should be a time when most people are planning holidays, going on day trips, or planning some weekends away we find ourselves wondering if perhaps next year will be better? The global pandemic of Covid-19 has brought life as we know it to a standstill. Throughout Ireland the Hospitality and Tourism sector has been hit extremely hard with mass layoffs and the effective closing down of an entire industry. This blog aims to take a closer look at the tourism industry before, during and after this emergency and will offer some ideas on how workers within this vital sector can organise to better protect themselves for a better future. The time has never been more pressing than it is now to join a union and through collective actions demand for a better, fairer future as this vital sector recovers post crisis.

The Government website (gov.ie) ascribes that “Tourism is one of Ireland’s most important economic sectors. According to the latest estimates, in 2018, out of state (Overseas and Northern Ireland) tourists generated €5.6 billion for the Irish economy. This figure rises to €7.3 billion when fare receipts to Irish carriers are included. Domestic tourism was worth 2 billion, meaning the sector as a whole was worth €9.4 billion to the economy”

Tourism and the Economy

According to the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation www.itic.ie Tourism is Irelands largest indigenous industry employing up to 265,000 people with 68% jobs outside Dublin.  This is hugely significant given the number of tourists visiting here, up to €9.3 million overseas visitors came to Ireland in 2018 spending €5.1 billion in the local economy. Given the figures it is easy to see why governments, both local and national, businesses and workers are reliant on this sector to remain viable into the future. Therefore, in organising this industry it is vital that workers are viewed as essential components to help rebuild our local economies as the sector looks to welcoming tourists once again.

Dublin

Tourism and Céad Míle Fáilte

Since the beginning of this crisis our government, media and the wider public has rightly lauded frontline workers labelling themas essential. Indeed, these workers are helping to keep our communities safe and our shops open so that we can take care of ourselves and our families in these uncertain times.

Within all sectors of our economy there exists many other frontline and essential workers without whom the various sectors and the economy would simply grind to a halt.

Tourism workers are the face of Ireland. They are the storytellers of times past and the ones who give the world renowned céad míle fáilte to millions of tourists who visit our shores every year.

Working in the tourism industry is about telling the story of Ireland, workers draw from its unique and ancient culture with its vast and often troubled history in a way that brings the past to life, encapsulates the best of us at present, while showcasing Ireland as a future destination that has something to offer everyone.

Frontline workers in this industry are local ambassadors too, often helping tourists find their way about, answering queries and giving recommendations for where to eat, drink, visit and stay. These factors all help to contribute to the famous Irish welcome that visitors have come to expect, and it is one of the reasons why this industry thrives and why local businesses reap the benefits too, this is the beating heart of tourism, it’s where workers on the frontline of this industry excel at helping to deliver the best of what Ireland has to offer.

Working in Tourism: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

Working in tourism can be rewarding, those workers we spoke to for this blog stated that getting to meet people from different parts of the world is a pleasure, educating tourists about Irish history and culture makes their job satisfying and for those workers who are outdoors or working in heritage and popular tourist sites work brings a sense of doing something different than the norm which these workers appreciate.

However, like their counterparts in the hospitality industry, tourism workers often have precarious work, earn low pay, get no extra pay for working on a Sunday, most workers have no job security and working conditions can be less than desirable.

Some workers do not receive their contracts or proper breaks, some complain of not getting their work roster in a timely manner, while one business we know of does not provide a toilet for their staff, yes, you read that correctly. Despite several attempts to resolve the issue workers here are still without the most basic of rights.  

 Many tourism workers have extensive knowledge of local and national history they hold university degrees, while many more attend related or professional courses to further their education in relation to their jobs, yet the pay and conditions these workers receive does not reflect the skills many of these workers have nor the overall input these workers deliver for the industry as a whole.

Another area of concern raised by some workers in the sector is the use of social media and apps such as TripAdvisor, some reviews can lead to added stress for workers. Bad reviews or even no reviews can lead to some workers experiencing their hours being reduced. The worker in this instance has little by way of right to reply to the complainant and must rely on management to step up when workers are wronged.

All these issues show how little respect is given to many workers in this sector without proper site inspections vital workers rights can be disregarded and ignored.

Tourism in a Post Pandemic Workplace

Workers returning to their jobs over the coming months must be satisfied that all health and safety measures are in place to keep them safe.

At a recent Covid-19 briefing on RTE, the Minister for Business, Heather Humphries, called for ‘every workplace to appoint one lead workers representative who will work with the employer to ensure Covid-19 measures are adhered to’, of course we would argue these ‘lead workers’ should be union members.

In the recently published research paper, commissioned by Unite and titled, Hope or Austerity, Dr Conor McCabe lays out clearly why we need to have confidence that measures are working as we reopen for business. ‘Guideline or ‘best practice’ procedures will not be enough. These protections must be on a legal footing and subject to workplace checks by trade unions. This is to ensure that our members are protected, and that employers adhere to the regulations’.

As the Hospitality & Tourism industry returns and rebuilds post pandemic, the public must be assured that conditions in the workplace are satisfactory for the workers, and that it is a safe place for them to visit.

Therefore, it is the workers themselves in this sector who need to become unionised. Strengthened by their collective power they will then be better positioned to protect themselves and the public too. The workplace that has a unionised lead worker can be an advocate on broader work issues, raise health & safety matters with management and be a voice for workers grievances.

This is the best way forward for workers in an industry that has disregarded its front-line staff for too long while the industry has taken billions into the Irish economy on the backs of the hard work done by skilled and dedicated employees.

Tourism & Hospitality have much in common, the Covid -19 pandemic has had, and it will continue to have, a massive impact on tourism not just in Ireland but globally too. It is the sector that took the biggest hit and will take time to recover, jobs created by this sector and the economic impact is undeniable. Let us hope that Ireland’s key sectors, and those who run, regulate, and profit from them are taking this time to reflect on a little bit more than the bottom line.

 And let us hope that workers too are reflecting and realising some important lessons this pandemic has given us; that all workers have value and their contributions are necessary to keep the wheels of the economy running, that it is the front-line workers in all sectors who are the biggest asset any company or business has.

 It is now time to reflect, recharge, rethink and unionise.

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