Some eight per cent of the global workforce is employed in the tourism sector. However, endemic poverty, lack of opportunity, a heavy dependence on tourism to generate income plus weak adherence to international labour standards creates fertile ground for the exploitation of workers at the bottom of the tourism supply chain in countries all over the world. Children and women are particularly vulnerable to abuse, including sexual exploitation and harassment.
Porters, cooks, cleaners, gardeners, drivers, security guards and cruise ship workers are often poorly paid, work long hours and lack formal contracts. This can leave them without holiday or sick leave entitlements, and vulnerable to dismissal without warning or compensation. In many countries, the national minimum wage is a poverty wage, particularly in tourist hubs where the cost of food and housing is at a premium because of the industry. Work is often seasonal and subject to the fickle whims of the global tourism market, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Some hotels forbid their employees from joining a union; union leaders are frequently harassed and imprisoned; while some repressive regimes may ban unionising altogether.
Such abuses often violate the Core Labour Standards of the International Labour Organisation.
For example, on 2 September 2011, Daniel Urai, general secretary of the Fijian National Union of Hospitality Catering and Tourism Industries Employees and union organiser Nitin Goundra were reportedly due to go on trial for “unlawful assembly”. This refers to a meeting they held with their members to advise them on collective bargaining negotiations with hotel management.
Visit our past Sun, Sand, Sea and Sweatshops campaign page to read more about working conditions.
Mountain trekking porters, which carry the supplies for tourists in trekking destinations such as Nepal, Tanzania and Peru, are also prone to abuse. Back-breaking loads, long hours, inadequate provision of food, clothing and shelter, and sometimes even death – are often all in a day’s work for porters.
Some of the many countries with cases of worker exploitation: Burma, China, Caribbean, Egypt, Mexico, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Spain, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Dominican Republic, UK, India