The tour operator that was the subject of an unprecedented government crackdown on human rights abuses in Scotland last year has warned that Scotland’s human rights situation is “very, very fragile”.
The Highland Tour Operators Association (HTOA) said the crackdown on the group has been “totally unnecessary” and the group will now work with the government to “work towards an environment in which all our human rights are respected”.
It comes after the SNP announced plans to review human rights conditions at the company that operates many of Scotland’s top attractions, including St Andrews Castle, which were the subject on a visit by the president of the European Commission to Scotland in May.
The SNP also announced it would ban the use of the word “scandalous” in its campaign against the tourism industry.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We have seen the impact of the Government’s tough crackdown on tour operators.
These inspections were necessary to identify and prevent human rights violations, and to ensure that the tour operators who operate Scotland’s most popular attractions, like St Andrews, are doing everything possible to ensure the safety and welfare of the people who come to visit them.”
We have also received assurances from the tour operator in question that the inspection process will continue.
“This will be a review of the tour company’s human and labour rights records and that it will be required to undertake a detailed compliance review.”
The Government is committed to working with all stakeholders to bring Scotland’s tourism sector back to its full potential, and will continue to monitor the progress of all those involved.
“The HTOA, which operates the most visited tourist attractions in Scotland, also welcomed the decision to review the company’s labour and human rights practices.
Chief executive John McCrae said:”We welcome the Government review of HTOA’s labour practices.
This will be the first such review of our company’s employment practices since we took over as the company in 2012.”HTOA’s business model relies on tourism, and we believe that the current conditions of employment are not sustainable for the continued operations of the company.”
With the recent introduction of the Human Rights Act, we now need to work with all our stakeholders to ensure we can continue to provide safe and enjoyable experiences for visitors to Scotland.
“For those of you who have visited us before, we hope this review will be constructive and productive, and that we will be able to make a positive difference in the future for the people of Scotland.”HTOA has faced scrutiny for its human rights record in the past.
In February 2016, the Scottish Government banned the use “scab” in the name of the tourist attraction after it was discovered to have been used to label the bodies of women and children during the 2008 financial crisis.
In March 2015, the company was also fined £50,000 for a similar offence, but was only ordered to pay a fine of just £8,000 after an investigation found it had not breached the Act.
In a statement, the HTOA said:The HR Act, which has been in place since 1992, gives the Government the power to regulate and control how we operate.
It allows the Government to suspend or cancel contracts with certain companies that are not in compliance with our obligations under the Act, and makes it an offence for us to make any misrepresentations in our contract terms.
It is a law that has had the impact that it has had on the tourism sector in Scotland.
The HR Act has made it illegal for our company to make false or misleading representations to prospective guests and the Government has the power under that law to fine us if we are found to have breached the law.
We hope that this review and the imposition of the fine will put an end to the concerns that the Government raised.
It will not be the end of the HR Act as we continue to operate as an independent company, but it will make it harder for us as a company to operate with any certainty.
“Our experience of working with the Scottish government, and of working closely with our partners, has been that the Scottish Human Rights Commission has been very helpful in helping us to comply with the HRAct, as it has been under the previous Scottish Government.”