Give your business a fair labour health check
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By Carolyn Wincer, 1st December 2021
Travelife for Accommodation discusses why fair labour practices are an important part of operating sustainably and the types of things management should be looking at to make sure you are being a fair and responsible employer.
How a business impacts people and societies is a huge part of sustainability, yet we often limit our thinking in this area to people outside of the business such as the local communities where we send our customers, or where our suppliers operate. At Travelife fair labour practices make up a large part of our certification requirements for hotels because when it comes to people and sustainability, we all need to start with where we have the most influence and control, and where we can have the biggest positive impacts, and that means starting with your own team.
In this article we look at the core components of fair labour practices so that any business, anywhere in the world, can give themselves a quick check-up, regardless of their local conditions.
Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Complying with legislation and what to do when there are no laws
Fair labour practices are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) that covers many areas relating to employment from living wages to equal pay, to the right to join a union and to have paid leave. Travelife’s requirements for certified accommodation are based on these rights and we strongly recommend that anyone working in human resources is familiar with them alongside all the employment legislation that applies to your business. You should also have a system in place that makes sure you stay up-to-date with any regulatory changes.
Some countries lack labour laws that protect people, including countries that are signatories to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. If your business operates in one of those regions then it is a good idea to fall back on the UNDHR articles (even if your country was not a signatory) and also look to guidance from the Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) who publish recommendations on their website along with information about regional labour issues such as wages. You should also review any voluntary regulations for your sector outlined by industry associations such as a national or international trade body.
In addition to complying with the legal minimums, the essential components of fair labour relate to wages, hours, time off, fair and transparent disciplinary procedures and ensuring staff can make representations and give suggestions to management without retaliation. They also include ensuring that nobody is discriminated against when it comes to recruitment, promotions, training opportunities, wages or working conditions. Finally, there should be protections in place for maternity and paternity leave, ensuring that parents can take necessary time off without it impacting their career prospects or resulting in poverty.
It is essential that all staff understand and freely accept their terms of employment, and can easily find information about these terms, as well as general employment policies, in their own language.
Diversity and inclusion
This should be a top priority for any business that is looking to be more successful and more sustainable. This goes beyond preventing discrimination by being proactive about creating a diverse workforce at all levels of your business, with a strong focus on increasing diversity in your management teams and in the board room. Doing this effectively will involve research and consultation with experts in the field that come from diverse backgrounds themselves, as well as an honest assessment of how well you are currently performing. Diversity and inclusion policies should be approved at board level, involve regular senior level progress reports and be integrated into daily operations. All of this helps to ensure the best chance of success.
Going the extra mile
A company that really cares about retaining a happy and healthy workforce, along with attracting the best new talent, will be looking to offer added benefits. The sky is the limit in terms of what these could be as long as they are relevant to issues of importance to employees in your particular sector or location. As a general rule, anything that improves the welfare and prospects of your employees and their families is a good place to start. That includes things like healthcare, life insurance, additional leave days, flexible hours, training and development opportunities, childcare and robust redundancy packages that can offer peace of mind should their employment with you become at risk.
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Many businesses have formal or informal legacy policies in place that are no longer relevant or necessary. Some of these could be detrimental to morale and even discriminate against certain workers. They could include things like your dress code, timekeeping rules, how you assess people for promotions and how you reward good performance. Legacy policies could involve the way you recruit staff such as the minimum qualifications and experience you require. This could be creating risks you may not have considered, such as preventing you from creating a diverse workforce or discriminating against people who took time out of their careers to raise children or to deal with an illness.
Labour exploitation happens in every corner of the globe and while you may know you are not engaging in exploitation yourselves, are you confident that the same can be said about your contractors and suppliers? You may be supporting these practices without realising it, and the possibility that people at your own place of business are being exploited is very real in the form of contracted cleaners, catering staff and maintenance workers. Or you could be supporting human exploitation offsite in the form of laundry workers, factory workers or in pretty much any other type of work that is vulnerable to exploitation.
Every business should do their best to review their own operations and procurement practices to look for red flags in this area, and in some countries this is required by law. There are excellent resources online to help with this process, including how to train your staff on identifying red flags. We recommend starting with the Stronger Together, an NGO that specialises in tackling human exploitation in supply chains.
And as for your business, you should ensure that both your policies, and those of any employment agencies you work with, prevent exploitation. For example, no staff member should have to pay for their employment, with your business being 100% responsible for all your recruitments costs. No staff member should have any important documents withheld as a condition of employment such as passports, other forms of identification and bank cards. Finally, every staff member should be free to leave their employment at any time, with all their personal belongings and be paid any salary they are owed.
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