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Travel & Tourism – Tricky Troubles for Employers

Many employers in the travel and tourism sector will no doubt have breathed a sigh of relief at the announcement from the Government last week that international travel rules were to be simplified, and a surge in holiday bookings abroad was expected to follow.

It’s been an incredibly tough 18 months for employers in this sector; the various lockdowns brought the industry to its knees, but then the boom in the domestic tourism market this year has brought its own challenges, with employers having to navigate staff shortages.

The huge increase in the UK tourism industry has been well documented in the press; people reluctant to risk the expense and uncertainty of going abroad, but desperate to holiday after months of lockdown, have been frantically booking up what’s left of the country’s holiday accommodation. However the industry was already facing staff shortages in the wake of Brexit, as new rules and lengthy paperwork came into force, deterring European workers from coming to the UK. This was then compounded by impact of the pandemic.

Some workers in the industry faced many months stuck on furlough, before finally opting to leave the industry altogether to seek a more reliable position. Then came the ‘ping-demic’ with huge numbers of workers forced to self-isolate as a result of the NHS Track and Trace. Now, even after the rules around self-isolating have changed, there is an increased risk of workers calling in sick, not only for COVID-related reasons, but also the huge increase in volume of trade is putting increased pressure on owners and workers alike, affecting them both mentally and physically.

So whilst the industry booms, it looks like employers in this sector are still likely to be facing a number of tricky challenges. Here’s a reminder of some key things to think about:

  • With staff shortages, employers might be tempted to stretch their existing resources and lean on existing staff members. The Working Time Regulations 1998 set out clear parameters on rest breaks, daily and weekly rest and the maximum working week.
  • With business booming, it can be tempting to just get staff in and working, rather than prioritising ticking all the administrative boxes when employing staff. Often employment contracts can fall by the wayside, with promises that they will be issued as soon as time allows. However having an written statement of terms is now a ‘day one’ right of both employees and workers (and this includes temporary or seasonal workers). Apart from giving you a fighting chance of protecting your business and setting out what is expected of your staff, there are direct financial consequences of not providing a contract should a worker or employee seek to bring a complaint in the Tribunal. 
  • Similarly right to work checks are in danger of being overlooked. Travel and tourism has traditionally attracted workers from across the EU, but as a result of Brexit EU workers without settled or pre-settled status will need an appropriate work visa. Employers have faced civil penalties for failing to conduct right to work checks, and criminal charges for knowingly employing an illegal immigrant. Penalties vary on a case by case basis, with the maximum civil penalty currently standing at £20,000 for each individual who does not have the right to work in the UK. Where an employer can demonstrate compliance with the right to work checks regime, they will have a “statutory excuse” and be excused from paying a civil penalty where they are found to have employed an illegal worker. However, the checks must be conducted prior to employment commencing otherwise the statutory excuse cannot be established. With the stakes so high, it is really important that right to work checks don’t fall by the wayside.
  • The travel and tourism has had to make its own adjustments to take into account COVID secure measures. Together with the increase in demand, this has inevitably had an impact on things like service times and availability. It’s been reported in the press that this has led to angry outbursts from unsatisfied customers. Workers will already be toiling long hours, and this added stress could well take a toll on their wellbeing. So it’s really important for employers to plan how they might support employee wellbeing; a healthy and productive workforce is absolutely key to business sustainability and growth and never more important than now.

The employment picture in the travel and tourism industry is a unique one that spans a huge variety of roles across its workforce. It is an industry that can provide flexibility and accessibility into employment for a wide range of people, but one that currently faces a number of challenges. If you are an employer in the sector and need help navigating those challenges please contact our team for a free consultation at legal@lexleyton.co.uk to see how we can help.

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