News & Media

Additional supports needed for workers in tourism industry and aviation sector

6 May 2020

Speech by Duncan Smith TD
Party Whip and Spokesperson on Climate Action, Communications Networks and Transport.

Hospitality within Tourism sectors:

I am delighted that we have a chance to discuss Tourism today. I think we all share in this house a sense of pride in our country as a beautiful, welcoming and varied tourism destination. It is now one of many sectors in Ireland that is facing a cliff edge from which many are worried, the sector may not be able to recover from. It is the most impacted sector in terms of people out of work due to the COVID crisis.

128,000 workers in the tourism and hospitality sectors are now in receipt of the pandemic payment, which compares to 90,000 people in the retails sector and 70,000 in construction. The figures are mind boggling. In hospitality and tourism it is predominantly women workers, seasonal workers, part time workers and under valued workers who are impacted. 

In other words it is impossible to overstate the scale of the crisis that has engulfed tourism.

Domestic Tourism

We know that the focus is going to be on domestic tourism to salvage the industry and lead it on the road back to health. We are blessed to have such a varied offering of attractions and amenities. We were proud to be in Government and involved in the tourism brief when the Wild Atlantic Way and many new Greenways we see across our beautiful islandwere developed. These amenities are not solely for the enjoyment of international tourists, or an opportunity to attract brief and fleeting wealth to our country. These amenities must be attractive and endearing to us the Irish public. In a world that is always changing, we now face immediate and drastic change. We need a progressive and forward-thinking plan to ensure that Irish holidaymakers can holiday in all our beautiful 32 counties.

The hospitality and tourism industry is vital to Ireland and it is key that we work to keep it going. Workers in this industry have some of the most precarious work conditions and pay of any sector in the country. We must ensure that any government finances used to help this industry recover include agreements in employment legislation to ensure a fair living wage, ensure fair contract hours and the fundamental unadulterated right to union representation and collective bargaining with no option for businesses to ignore or disregard that right.

As we all know, the hospitality sector received support from the government and the taxpayer during the last economic downturn that this country faced. The lower VAT rate helped this sector. This assistance in the form of a lower VAT rate was never built upon to ensure that workers in that industry had more secure employment or a realistic living wage.

The taxpayer and the government purse sacrificed a significant percentage of taxation - which a raft of vital public services very much so could have done with - with little return to the sector’s workers, other than to embed precarious work and conditions. We must learn from these mistakes of the past and ensure that any taxpayer funding that is used to revive and keep industries afloat, has a return on investment to the public and the workers.

We believe that any package for the industry must ensure the delivery of a functioning JLC for the sector. This must be a bottom line.

We are open to any creative measures that will keep the hospitality sector alive. We like the idea of a state funded voucher scheme for domestic hotels and guesthouses. This would be a great boost to the domestic economy in the latter half of 2020 and beyond.

With the road plan out of the COVID restrictions being published it is good to see some light at the end of the tunnel in relation to some activities which will benefit our internal tourism. We know that Golf will be resuming under social distancing restrictions soon and hopefully as further restrictionsare lifted this will lead to people being able to travel within the country for such activities.

I would like to commend Inland Fisheries Ireland who have communicated quite clearly how the reintroduction of angling can take place as we move through the phases of lifting restrictions. Angling tourism is worth €280 million per year and whilst such a figure will not be reached this year, salvaging some sort of economy from angling tourism will be beneficial. The benefits of angling for people’s mental health and fostering an affinity with nature and wildlife is well known. The Government should be proactive in encouraging activities such as this, which can be safely practised in terms of social distancing, to help our tourism economy recover.

Minister, we are looking at some anomalies and I know there has been an awful lot of discussion in relation to when pubs are going to be re-opened. The opening of the pubs is seen rightly or wrongly, probably wrongly, as some sort of finishing line for the COVID crisis. We know this is not accurate but it demands a clearer communication strategy from Government on this.

For example there is an inherent contradiction that restaurants with bars can reopen on 29 June but bars without restaurants cannot open until 10 August. Whilst like many, I look forward to the day I can meet my friends in the local pub for a pint, I am not in any rush to get there if it compromises public safety. In relation to this anomaly, we would ask that both pubs and restaurants open on the same day as long as the establishments can adequately meet public health requirements. 

Airline & International Tourism

Minister, any return to a vibrant and healthy tourism sector will be predicated on a the existence of a viable airline industry. And I am deliberately using the word “existence”. We are very worried about our aviation sector at this time and there are many people working in aviation who are deeply worried about their future careers.

In Dublin Airport today, there are only nine scheduled Departures and ten Arrivals, and five of those flights are domestic.

Thousands of jobs depend on the Airport reopening. But many daily flights are to other EU member states, and our ability to reopen the airport also depends on whether or not those countries have reopened air travel.

We are worried about jobs in Dublin Airport

We are worried about jobs in Shannon Airport. In fact we are worried about the very viability of Shannon Airport.

We are worried about jobs in Cork.

Aer Lingus and Ryanair are both projecting difficult times ahead and job losses.

An Taoiseach spoke last week about the liberalisation of the airline market and how that has benefitted workers and customer alike. Liberalisation of the free market of any sector has led to increase the wealth gap in many countries in Europe, not only ours, and to further condemn workers in those industries to less protections and further economic inequality. And that is how they are feeling right now. Unprotected and vulnerable.

 

Minister, in light of the recent reports of massive layoffs of workers in the airline sector with companies such as Aer Lingus and the DAA,  is the government willing to ensure that the wage subsidy scheme will be extended for a longer period as we transition to life with the COVID19 pandemic?

Also, it also must be noted that companies like Aer Lingus and Ryanair are some of the most cash rich companies in the global industry so a combined approach of protecting workers between the State and the companies needs to be found.

With so much  cash on reserve in these companies we do need to ask why are these companies laying off these workers? The only conclusion I can draw is that these companies are seeking to protect those private profits over their ability to maintain employment of their dedicated workforce.

Has the Minister or his department liaised with the department for the environment in any way to investigate using this terrible pandemic we have suffered to change travel practises to radically improve Ireland’s contribution to climate action?

We regularly hear from environmental action groups about the negative effects on the environment from airline travel; can this pandemic which has halted all flights be used to curb the amount we travel?

Has the Minister or his department liaised with the department for the environment in any way to investigate using this terrible pandemic we have suffered to change travel practises to radically improve Ireland’s contribution to climate action?

We regularly hear from environmental action groups about the negative effects on the environment from airline travel; can this pandemic which has halted all flights be used to curb the amount we travel?

Minister, in this particular sector low wages are quite prevalent. Will any bailout of these industries be tied to employment legislation to ensure this industry puts much greater value on the jobs within it and pays a fair wage to its workers?

What plans has the Minister and his department made to ensure the prosperity and buoyancy of the tourism sector and to improve the long overdue reforms in precarious employment in the sector?