The UNWTO has repeatedly claimed that poverty reduction is an important item on its agenda and that tourism revenues primarily benefit developing countries. However, looking at employment and labour practices in the industry paints a very different picture. We work with unions, organisers, and researchers to study the relationship between the growth of tourism and the informal labour economy.

The ‘unorganised’ sector accounts for nearly 90% of India’s labour force, many of whom are migrants who travel wherever work takes them. The tourism industry in India is no exception. Trade unions have been struggling for decades to organize labourers the over 400 million migrant labourers. In fact, only 9% of India’s workforce is unionized although there are over 66,000 trade unions registered.

In 1982, Peoples Union for Democratic Rights and other concerned individuals filed two separate cases against low wages for migrant workers employed during Asiad Games. The Supreme Court’s 1984 verdict concluded that low wages amounted to forced, or bonded labour, under law. But this did not improve the governments' implementation of laws that ensure workers’ rights. Workers are most likely to be thrown out of their jobs if they raise demands or make attempts to organize a union.

In India, the informal sector contributes significantly to the expanding tourism economy. Hawkers and street vendors, dhabas and eateries, vendors selling handicrafts, trinkets and other items for tourists, daily wage labourers and temporary workers in small to medium scale tourism businesses (such as hotels and shops) all represent a part of the informal labour force in the tourism sector. This employment is more often than not - seasonal and attracts many people, especially women. While tourism soaks up unemployment in the local community, they tend to stay in low-income positions. The better-paid and more skilled jobs are still imported from outside. So, the managers of the hotel, the chef, and the people who get a decent wage are not from that local community.

Tourism planning processes have not considered the informal sector and they have not been considered as stakeholders in tourism despite their significant contribution to the economy and services to the tourists. There is a dire need to recognise this linkage between tourism and vending within the larger framework of the informal sector and EQUATIONS works with unions, organisers, and researchers to study the relationship between the growth of tourism and the informal labour economy, with a focus on the ways it affects the lives of this labour force.