ISLAMABAD – A study shows that the hospitality sector needs to work towards cultivating a decent work culture as working conditions within the sector are identified with low wages, informal recruitment practices, unsocial and long working hours, and difficulties in recruitment and retention resulting in high levels of labour turnover.

The report ‘Quality and Competitiveness in Hospitality Sector -A Situation Analysis on Gender and Employment in the Hospitality Sector in Pakistan’ was coordinated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The geographical focus of the study was on the districts - Lahore, Faisalabad, Karachi, Rawalpindi/Islamabad and Gilgit -Baltistan. The hospitality sector, ranges from hotels and transportation to recreation and entertainment, and tourism. The industry falls under the services sector of the economy, which has a major sectoral share, 53.3 per cent that has remained relatively constant over the past few years due to the recession and the security situation.

The findings indicate that the sector is gender segregated both with respect to working conditions and opportunities. In spite of efforts to induct women in the sector, their participation is limited to specific departments and jobs. They are discriminated on the basis of sex, marital status and age. Occupational segregation is prevalent in the sector with women concentrated in “caring” or “glamorous” roles.

Whereas gender issues of women are considered, through the provision of pick and drop facility, maternity leaves and effective implementation of sexual harassment and discrimination policies, however, there is need for further support in terms of provision of benefits and training and career opportunities, suggest the study.

In Rawalpindi and Islamabad, currently a significant number of businesses are closing down completely or are functioning partially; only 40 per cent of businesses were estimated to be running, the study reveals.

The findings reveal that very few of the organizations (12.3 percent) had official unions. Majority of the employers do not support organizing unions as negative image is associated with unions. Approximately 3.9 percent of the respondents with collective agreements between employers and employees reported that they had specific provisions for women workers.

Only 6.4 percent of the Unions have women as members, with only 2.9 percent of the Unions have taken up issues relating to females during last three years.

Interestingly, of the two cities, Rawalpindi seems to be worse off. The tax differential of 27 percent and 17 percent that is applied on enterprises in Rawalpindi and Islamabad respectively is putting more financial pressure on the former. Varied implementation of regulations, such as the rule for one dish wedding ceremonies, are also hampering business in Rawalpindi, as customers prefer going to Islamabad. Another challenge in Rawalpindi is the presence of set ups at central locations that belong to the armed forces. These businesses are tax exempted allowing them to lower prices and increase competition.

In Islamabad, mushrooming of nearly 300 guest houses during the last five years in residential area is against the rules of Capital Development Authority (CDA). Since these guest houses are not located in commercial areas, therefore, commercial taxes are not paid by them.

The hospitality sector in Pakistan needs to improve its image generally, and as an employer specifically; by providing better options in terms of policies, benefits, career plans, opportunities and remuneration keeping in mind gender equality. Career opportunities also need to be promoted especially for women. These opportunities need to be formally announced in a transparent manner. As a policy measure, elimination of occupational segregation needs to be supplemented with greater investment in skill enhancement of women through education and vocational training- an important component of human capital.

The informal economy is gaining strength, and hence the need for associated skills is on the rise. With regard to skills in the informal sector, management skills are especially lacking; including business development; marketing and sales are especially needed for women as they are setting up personal business. In addition, there is a lack of appropriate networks and incubation centers.

Specific skills (culinary expertise, chefs, hygiene and safety) and non-trade specific (soft, life, communication, IT, management and supervisory, servicing, customer service) are identified as both existing and emerging shortages, which ultimately affect the market demand and supply, as well as prevailing market opportunities. The training providers in the hospitality sector, majority are government institutions with few private ones. Curriculum of training providers is not standardized. Course development varies from institution to institution and usually faculty does not have structured professional development. For the provision of hands on training, work placements with structured experience needs to be accredited and should be made the part of the curriculum, The role of NAVTEC can be very crucial in supporting the development of a standardized curriculum, a process which has already been rolled out, through stakeholder consultation.

However, simply providing quality training/education is not sufficient, access to educational qualifications needs to be increased by lowering costs as to enhance opportunities for potential employees.

The services sector provides employment to 36.6 percent of employed individuals, although the male and female gap is stark i.e. 28.3 percent.

The hotel industry is among the top three constituents of the world economy after oil and autos. It is even larger than automobile industry in Japan, agriculture in USA and banking in Switzerland. The unemployment rate in Pakistan is 5.5 percent. And the hospitality sector has the potential to be a source of employment to a significant percentage of the population.