Tour operating

Workers' rights

Challenges related to seasonality and heavy price pressure in tourism are often shifted on to staff, who face low wages, long working hours, and insecure working contracts. Tour operators should ensure adequate working conditions for their staff.

It is especially likely that on-line and front-line staff with travel agents or tour operators will receive low salaries, leading to low levels of job loyalty and high turnover. Heavy workloads, long working hours, short-notice bookings or changes, and constant reachability via cell phone in the peak season may lead to high stress levels in tourism staff. A lack of well-functioning grievance mechanisms may decrease staff motivation and lead to poor performance, customer service, or low productivity.

The seasonality of the tourism industry leads to a high rate of casual working contracts and seasonal employees or subcontractors. Social protection and health insurances are sometimes not included in these contracts. Staff recruited through agencies or subcontractors bear an even higher risk of unfair working contracts.

Besides caring about their own staff, tour operators should also ensure adequate working conditions and general human rights due diligence in their supply chain (see related risk cards).

In its human rights impact assessment in India, Kuoni identified various labour issues in its own operations, including its destination management office in India. It found a lack of a well-functioning grievance mechanisms, high stress levels during peak season, and some dissatisfaction with wage levels.

As tourist numbers have been rising in Iceland for the past number of years, thousands of new jobs are being created. Many of them are filled by foreign employees, especially from Eastern Europe but also by young volunteers from Western Europe. The new employees often do not know their rights in the Icelandic labour market. Working in the black market without necessary documentation and personal identification number, employees risk receiving wages below the minimum wages fixed in the Icelandic collective agreement. Foreign workers often do not know where to report unfair treatment at work. Moreover, the black market leads to unfair competition.

Melbourne travel agency lands in court for alleged cashback schemes, underpayment and false records

A Melbourne travel agency and one of its directors faced court for allegedly requiring an overseas worker to pay back more than $20,000 of her wages and for proposing to enter into a similar cashback scheme with a second worker. The company told the workers who are of foreign nationality that the arrangements were a condition for their visa support. Furthermore, the company underpaid their workers and provided misleading information to the investigating ombudsperson.

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Take action

Policy and process

  • Ensure that working contracts are fair and meet international labour rights standards.
  • Conduct regular employee surveys and establish feedback mechanisms.

Grievance mechanism

  • Establish a well-functioning grievance mechanism for employees to report concerns and problems.

Find more information on potential measures to take on the "take action" site. 

Learn more

Find more information in the Resource Centre.