The global tourism sector, which was contracting before the terrorist attacks of September 11, is now in full-blown crisis, and urgent action is needed at every level to address the impact of the crisis on jobs in the sector. This was the message of an unprecedented 2-day meeting convened at the ILO in Geneva on October 25-26.
The tripartite meeting was the first ever to be convened by the ILO in response to a joint initiative by the IUF, representing hotel and tourism workers, and the employers in the sector.
The sharp downturn in tourism began immediately after September 11 and continues to deepen. HERE, the IUF’s North American affiliate, reports massive layoffs and record unemployment in the hotel sector, and fears as many as a million North American layoffs in the near-to-medium-term. Internationally, transnational companies in the sector have implemented or announced dramatic layoffs. These include: Club Mediterranée (temporary or permanent closure of 15 sites in Mexico, the Caribbean, Canary Islands, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Greece, Israel and Malaysia); Thomas Cook (closure of 100 agencies and elimination of 2600 jobs); and Accor (job cuts at Carlson Wagonlit Travel), to name but a few. The sector relies heavily on precarious and part-time employment, and many of these dismissed workers will simply vanish unrecorded from the statistical record.
Given the extent of the crisis and the evident need for quick action, union, employer and government representatives were able to agree on a series of recommended measures for government action, for action by employers’ and workers’ organizations, and for the ILO.
Governments are encouraged to allocate special funding to assist the sector and its workers who suffer temporary or permanent loss of employment and income. They should also assist employers and trade unions to establish education and training programmes at no cost for employees with the objective of retaining employees within the industry and enhancing their opportunities for a secure future in tourism. The meeting also recommended that tourism should receive greater official recognition and promotion by governments and that campaigns be developed to promote tourist activity, especially domestic and intra-regional tourism. Measures should also be taken to encourage travel and tourism by lower-income groups. Governments should seek funding from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to provide the necessary resources to implement these recommendations.
Employers’ organizations and trade unions are encouraged to agree on measures to extend employment, avoid or limit job losses and, wherever possible, give priority to the reintegration of workers facing short-term job loss as a result of the crisis.
The meeting recommendations call upon the ILO to: support calls for direct intervention from the relevant international financial institutions; organize education programs specifically aimed at the hotel and tourism sector; encourage the full participation of worker representatives and employers in consultations to address the employment crisis; continue to assess the evolving impact of the September 11 events, including the organization of review meetings at the ILO; and ensure adequate resources for the sector, including ILO staff resources.
IUF general secretary Ron Oswald welcomed the outcome of the meeting and its recommendations, but noted that implementation will be the crucial test of a common will to ensure that employees do not bear the full burden of the crisis. Oswald said “We were very pleased that the ILO responded so quickly and efficiently to the joint call from the employers and the IUF to discuss the drastic employment situation in tourism. We were also encouraged by the willingness of governments and employers to reach a consensus on the actions to be taken in this difficult situation. We strongly believe that the crisis will not be overcome through unilateral decisions and measures which place the economic and social costs of the crisis on the workers alone. The meeting recommended that all decisions affecting employment be taken only after proper consultation with duly recognized workers’ organizations, i.e. the trade unions organizing workers in the sector. This means that many employers in a sector notorious for systematic violation of the rights of workers and their unions must change course and recognize the need to establish industrial relations built on respect for trade union rights and ILO Conventions. There is no other way to address the crisis.”