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Tourism Industry

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 22 June 2021

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Questions (60)

Imelda Munster


60. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media her views on reports of a worker shortage in tourism and hospitality; and her further views on the impact that low pay and poor conditions may be having on labour in the sector. [33256/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Tourism)

This question is to ask the Minister whether she will comment on reports of a shortage of workers in the tourism and hospitality sectors and whether she will share her views on the impact low pay and poor conditions may be having on labour in those sectors.

The reopening of the country and the economy has been happening gradually over June and I look forward to further reopening in July and beyond. Tourism accommodation and outdoor dining, tourism attractions and activities have reopened and, subject to satisfactory progress with the health situation, more indoor activities will reopen in July.

The Government has supported businesses through the closure in particular with initiatives such as the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS and the Fáilte Ireland tourism business continuity scheme and is now assisting them in their reopening. While CRSS and the tourism business continuity scheme have addressed fixed costs, the EWSS has been crucial in maintaining employment and the link between employer and employee.

Its continuation was one of the key asks of the sector and the Government has committed to its maintenance until the end of 2021 in the economic recovery plan. I know the reopening is very welcome but I also know it brings a number of challenges, especially in reconnecting with employees.

Tourism brings employment to many parts of the country that have limited alternative job opportunities. That said, I am aware of the reports of difficulties in rehiring workers. After such a long period of closure it is not surprising there are difficulties restarting, especially if workers have moved location or taken up other employment. I also understand the caution some employees may feel about their safety, as well as concern about potential future closures.

That is why the Government has taken a cautious and staggered approach to reopening to, as far as possible, avoid backward steps. Thankfully, building on the high uptake in vaccination, we are still on track to deliver our plans for July and I hope this will give people confidence to return to work.

Prior to the pandemic, tourism and hospitality accounted for approximately 260,000 jobs and Fáilte Ireland was very active in the issue of skills development in the sector. The tourism recovery task force made a number of recommendations to enhance sustainable employment in the tourism sector to support both its survival and recovery. This includes the development of a national tourism education gateway as a one-stop shop to education for all tourism employees. My Department is working closely with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science to progress these recommendations.

As the Deputy may be aware, labour law and workplace conditions are a matter for my colleague, An Tánaiste, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Some sector representatives have claimed the issue is one of some workers feeling it is not worth their while to work when they can remain on the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. Some in government, the media and the industry have created the false narrative people are abusing the PUP. It is not backed up by any data. An Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, representative, who recently appeared before an Oireachtas committee, put forward the facts there and stated there was no basis for it whatsoever.

I have sympathy with the sector. It is not trying to take away from the hardship it has had over the past year and a half but the issue has to be addressed, for the sake of workers and employers.

I do not believe the PUP is a disincentive to returning to work. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, has shown in its recent study, 95% of workers would be better off back at work. The PUP was an effective response to unemployment brought about the pandemic. The best way to secure the future of the industry and workers' incomes is to facilitate a safe and sustainable reopening that secures employment and income in the longer term.

The tourism and hospitality sector, as the Deputy is aware, is a large employer. It is not surprising, after such a long period of closure, there are difficulties restarting, especially if workers have moved or taken up other employment. I understand the caution employees may feel about the future and their concern about potential future closures. The best way to address that is to support workers and businesses to help them get back to normal trading.

We know the Low Pay Commission is looking at the issue but the sector will not do it unless it is forced to so do. It is up to the Government to make sure it steps up and follows through in the commitment to introduce a living wage as a matter of urgency. In 2019, almost 82,000 workers were in accommodation and food services. In 2018, their median pay was €313 per week. If one weighs that against the cost of living, rent, utilities, childcare etc., one can understand why the sector is struggling with staff retention.

It is not a new problem. For years, we have had a shortage of chefs, cooks etc. We should use this as an opportunity to address the long-running issues in the sector when it comes to workers' pay and conditions. Does the Minister have plans for workers in tourism and hospitality, in terms of low pay and poor conditions and improvements in that area?

As the Deputy said, I am aware staff retention is an issue and am delighted Fáilte Ireland is delivering on a number of strategies and is working closely with the industry, education providers and other State agencies to address the recruitment and retention challenges in the tourism sector. A recruitment for reopening webinar event was delivered on 30 April for tourism and hospitality businesses and more than 1,000 businesses registered for this event. Each business received a toolkit to support the recruitment challenges, including sourcing opportunities.

A social media campaign is live for the tourism sector and is targeting jobseekers on both Facebook and Instagram. A schedule of targeted content will run through the summer on Fáilte Ireland's tourism career websites. State agencies, such as SOLAS, through the education and training boards are delivering new sector-specific support, on their skills to advance programmes in conjunction with industry, with a number of higher education institutes continuing to develop new Springboard courses and deliver additional skills. These programmes received funding as part of the human capital initiative to retain and regain qualified staff.

I reiterate that labour law and workplace conditions are a matter for my colleague, An Tánaiste, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. He also is keen to make progress on the living wage.