Part-timers defended by stunned travel industry after controversial speech

Senior travel agency HR directors have defended their use of reduced-hours staff after a senior figure publicly told them: “don’t employ part-timers”.

Spear Travels director Peter Cookson stunned delegates at the Association of Independent Tour Operators’ annual conference in Cyprus last month when he said part-time staff were not as good at their job as full-timers.

“Don’t employ a part-time member of staff, even if they’re good,” said Cookson. “Hang on for a full-time member, even if [the person appointed] is a bit of a compromise.

“Clients want to speak to the same person as they have a relationship with that person,” he continued. “You need staff who work 9am to 5.30pm, five days out of six.”

But Cookson’s comments were shot down by industry big guns, who labelled him “out of touch”.

Jacky Simmonds, HR director at TUI Travel UK and Ireland, told Personnel Today: “Some of the best performers are people who work part-time.”

She added that flexible working arrangements were vital to meet customer demand for 24-hour services.

Anne Bilson, Thomas Cook’s director of HR and development, added: “With part-timers, we can more effectively manage the peak times when customers come into our high street stores or call the sales centres.”

The Association of British Travel Agents agreed.

A spokesperson for the industry group said: “The travel industry, more than many others, actively lends itself towards flexible working patterns. It benefits greatly from part-time staff as a resource, as many clients don’t book between 9am and 5pm.

“In addition, the industry is dominated by female staff, for whom flexible working practices are essential.”

Cookson also predicted that the government would make it illegal to advertise for only full-time staff within the next three years, due to discrimination against employees who need flexible schedules to work.

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