Porters rights and working conditions
Tourism Concern's "Suggested guidelines for UK tour operators on porters' rights and working conditions."
We hope tour operators will use these suggested guidelines as a basis for incorporating policies on porters' rights and working conditions into their companies' wider responsible/sustainable tourism policies. Not all of the points will be relevant and/or applicable to all operators, and the local social and economic context of individual destinations will also have to be considered. We hope that operators will decide individually what policies to adopt, and how best to implement them.
1. Relationship between UK tour operator and destination country ground agent.
UK tour operators should make specific, written requirements regarding porters' working conditions within the contracts or agreements they make with their local ground agents, so that UK operators are fully aware of, and accept appropriate responsibility for, the porters' issues outlined below. Thorough and transparent systems of communication between UK operators and ground agents should be established and monitored (see point 10 for suggested guidelines on implementation). Multiple subcontracting, which can dilute knowledge and responsibility, should be avoided.
2. Relationship with head porters/ sirdars/guides
Where head porters/guides take responsibility for porters, thorough and transparent systems of communication should be established and monitored, in order to avoid abuses of power (see point 10 for suggested guidelines on implementation). Consider making head porters/ guides permanent employees with written contracts to ensure that company policy on the porters' issues outlined below is followed. Head porters/guides should be authorized to use specific funds to pay for porters to be evacuated and treated in case of sickness or accident without their own remuneration being affected, together with clear guidelines on their application.
3. Communication with porters' groups
- Wherever possible, for example if porters' organisations exist, direct channels of communication should be established with porters, and porters should be involved in decision-making processes.
- Porters organisations which can, for example, ensure that work is rotated amongst members, should be supported.
4. Terms of employment and special provisions
Porters should be hired through formal contracts, setting out the terms of employment as well as the rights and responsibilities of porters on a short-term (trek-by-trek/seasonal) or longer-term basis. This can take the form of a written contract, using appropriate terminology or a verbal contract presented by the employer to all porters jointly, so that the porters collectively witness and approve the content of their contract. Contracts should include insurance policies covering sickness, accident/disability and/or out-of-season unemployment benefits. A minimum age for porters (suggestion of 16 years) should be set (omit if point on loads for younger workers included in section 8 is addressed).
Porters should be paid a stable and fair basic wage. This figure should be based on research into the local economic situation and average wages in the country, as well as consultation with porters groups and local non-governmental organisations (NG0s), taking the particularities of each trek into consideration. Provision should be made for porters' food and accommodation so that they do not have to provide for this out of their wages.
- Porter training should cover basic safety issues, in the interest of both porters' and tourists' health (for example, on the symptoms of altitude sickness)
- Opportunities for training should be provided to those porters who wish to further their career and personal development.
Equipment appropriate to each stage of each particular trek should be provided to porters, including, for example; sleeping tents, protective clothing, carrying equipment and kerosene for their own use.
A maximum load should be set and porters should not be asked to carry more than this under normal circumstances. If porters are permitted to carry above this weight on request, this should still not exceed a specified load and porters must be remunerated accordingly. The amount of trekkers' luggage and equipment that porters are expected to carry should take the weight of porters' own personal loads into account. Where younger workers are employed as porters, the maximum weight of their loads should be adjusted accordingly.
9. Client awareness and behaviour
- Clients should be provided with detailed pre-trek information on porters, to enable them to understand the issues confronting porters, be aware of the conditions that porters should be working under and to adopt responsible behaviour in their own practice.
- Porters and clients should be introduced by name at the start of a trek, and each porter should be personally assigned to specific client(s) on a trek.
- All clients should be given a post-trek feedback form to complete, to include specific questions on porters' working conditions.
- Representatives from Head Office should make regular, unannounced visits to the ground agent to ensure that all contractual agreements are being met. They should also take part in treks to monitor policies on porters on the ground.
- Porters' representatives should be consulted, for example by holding post-trek debriefing sessions.