SDG 8: Decent Work and Econocim Growth | The Agenda 2030 and Tourism
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    || The 2030 Agenda and Tourism > SDG 8: Decent Work and Econocim Growth
    When will we see decent work in tourism?


    By Ernest Cañada & Carla Izcara | Alba Sud

    As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), goal number eight was established as “Decent Work and Economic Growth”. In its drafting it therefore committed to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. This is one of the few goals to explicitly mention tourism. Target 8.9 of this goal announced that by 2030 policies would be devised and implemented “to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”. And the document Tier Classification for Global SDG Indicators, of 10 November 2016, which detailed its indicators proposed: “8.9.1) Tourism direct GDP as a proportion of total GDP and in growth rate. 8.9.2) Proportion of jobs in sustainable tourism industries out of total tourism jobs and growth rate of jobs, by sex”. These indicators placed an emphasis solely on economic growth and insisted on the traditional contribution of tourism in terms of economic growth, without including anything relating to the quality of this employment. Nevertheless, this bias should come as no surprise, as the SDGs, since their initial approach – according to Raoul Bianchi and Frans de Man (2020) – have pursued sustained economic growth based on market principles and a prioritization of capital interests.

    Leaving decent work out of the system of indicators should not be taken for granted. According to the International Labour Organization, decent work “involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for all, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men”. Consequently, the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda should be addressed: job creation, social protection, rights at work and social dialogue. However, none of this is reflected in the SDG 8 indicators. The focus is therefore limited to the growth of tourist occupancy and not the quality of such. The lack of this perspective in the specification of the SDGs has since their formulation held back expectations as to their potential for social transformation.

    Post-pandemic scenario: increased precariousness

    Six years after the Berlin Declaration, which saw the establishment of the Transforming Tourism Initiative, when we already detailed the corporate obstacles stopping tourism from becoming a promoter of decent work, we stated that there was an evolution in the opposite direction to that announced with the SDGs. The COVID-19 pandemic and the worsening of multiple global issues (climate emergency, increase of fossil fuels, scarcity of rare minerals, exacerbation of geopolitical tensions, among other factors), which have resulted in a state of polycrisis (Tooze, 2022), have further increased the instability of employment, which was already built on structurally precarious foundations (Cañada, 2019).

    The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an unprecedented global paralysis of tourism and involved millions of job losses. This highlighted the extreme vulnerability of these kinds of jobs. In addition, the social protection measures in those countries that managed to implement them did so under the responsibility of their respective states and, as such, using public resources. Companies rarely maintained their staff using their own means. Furthermore, the collectives facing the most insecurity, with temporary or outsourced work, were hardly able to access social assistance. In the case of informal work, the lack of assistance was even more notable. This has led to an increase in poverty and inequality, above all in areas with more tourism, where most of the population depends on the activity.

    After this period, far from acting as an invitation to reflect and make changes in tourism work, we return to business as usual with an increase in capital pressure to recover “the money and time lost”. The post-pandemic reactivation of tourism, beyond the practical recuperation of the number of tourists has intensified already existing trends that have worsened the quality of tourism employment, making it even more precarious. It is therefore already possible to identify some trends in progress.

    First, many people who during the pandemic were able to switch to other economic sectors, with better hours and salaries, such as logistics, commerce or running their own businesses, have significantly decided to stay on in these activities and not go back to tourism. This has led to a considerable lack of personnel in the sector. The corporate response, far from improving employment conditions and therefore making it more appealing, has consisted of pressuring their respective governments to facilitate the entry of an immigrant workforce prepared to accept these conditions. This situation has, in turn, resulted in greater entrepreneurial pressure to make work more flexible and intensify work with more versatility given the lack of personnel, greater workload and an attempt to take advantage of any legal loophole, or simply subvert it, to reduce labour costs, as we have been able to document in the case of Barcelona (Cañada & Izcara, 2022).

    Second, during the pandemic digitalisation processes and changes in the management of work accelerated in multiple economic sectors. This has also affected tourism. For example, in large events, some personnel in charge of passes have been substituted to prioritise online check-ins, or in an ever-increasing number of airports some of the operations prior to boarding are performed by the passengers themselves, rather than the personnel hired. In many tourist accommodation flats, the people in charge of receiving the tourists in these rented homes are being replaced by automated entry systems. At hotel receptions too, guests complete part of the registration process online beforehand. In fast food chains, personnel are being replaced by machines where you can place your order and pay. This dynamic has justifiably caused alarm regarding the reduction in certain jobs. However, whether this can become widespread is unclear and the impact of digitalization could be more complex. It is highly likely that jobs will be replaced if it means a reduction in labour costs for companies but if it is possible to access a cheap and flexible workforce, these kinds of processes will not advance in the same way. Or, rather, it may allow for an accentuation of the mechanisms of control over workers to reduce periods of dead time and intensify their work even further. This is the case, for example, with hotel room cleaning. The work of the chambermaids, who are mostly women and many are immigrant workers, is not being replaced by technological innovations and digitalization processes. At best, live information systems are improved to ensure a continuous flow of work or new work organisation systems are innovated to further standardise work and reduce the autonomy of these workers.

    Third, during and especially after the pandemic, a whole series of changes gained pace in the corporate structure of large tourism corporations, as well as in the composition of their capital, which has direct consequences on labour. Corporate concentration, the growing weight of financial capital, and the accentuation of the importance of platform capitalism are some of the elements of an accelerated transformation that seeks to reduce labour costs in any way possible. The increase in inequality is weakening workers' bargaining power in the face of companies that are increasingly making short-term decisions. As a result, labour relations, where there is still capacity for resistance, are hardening.

    Increasingly further away

    The SDGs established a horizon on which to propose public policies that would supposedly improve common well-being. However, the failure to question the global framework in which these goals were proposed has made it impossible to develop effective policies that actually lead to decent work in tourism. If the quality of tourism work, far from improving, shows clear signs of deterioration, an advocacy agenda will need to be composed that effectively contributes to its transformation. In tourism studies, in addition to an analysis of the number of jobs, we must delve deeper into the quality of such, taking into account how the workers live on a daily basis, what their working conditions are and the violations they suffer. Within companies, strengthening trade union organisation will be essential. Public policies must take this situation into account and promote greater control over working conditions, especially when committed to their development. It is up to NGOs and social movements to highlight, inform, raise awareness, mobilise and influence in order to transform tourism work, which is increasingly distancing itself from the various formulations that claim to want to improve it. In the meantime, for many tourism workers, daily life has become a nightmare.