Work in and after Covid-19

Hopes are high that the Covid-19 crisis will improve working conditions for people in so-called “critical” sectors such as nurses, delivery drivers or supermarket cashiers. So far, however, it seems that the ephemeral sound of balcony applause for these workers is trailing off without any substantive improvements being reached. Instead, it seems that inequalities are being cemented further. Large digital platforms like Amazon or Instawork are offering thousands of new gig jobs with excruciating working conditions. Many workers from other sectors, such as hospitality workers, have no alternative but to take up these jobs for a living. Supermarket workers remain scarily unprotected from – sometimes abusive – customers. Worker in garment supply chains remain the weakest link in the chain despite many attempts of improving their working conditions in recent years and now face devestating conditions amid the pandemic outbreaks after many brands have refused to pay for orders, not assuming responsibility for suppliers and workers. In many developed countries, migrant workers living in overcrowded dormitories are the ones most affected by Covid-19 outbreaks, as recently evidenced in Singapore or in the German meat industry. Other developments are more ambivalent. Home work is on the rise, making it easier for some to balance family and work demands and avoiding long commutes, but Silicon Valley companies such as Facebook already announced that this shift would go along with a wage cut, whereas news abound over new and intrusive forms of surveillance of workers in the home office. There is some hope in progressive governments’ attempts to use this crisis to trial out new forms of work, such as Jacinda Arden’s call for a four-day work week to buffer the effects of Covid-19. The global attention that the #democratizework appeal by thousands of academics has received clearly shows the urgent need to rethink the way work is organized. It is now up to each one of us to – as explained in our first lecture – maintain attention to this critical issue for precarious workers at home and abroad. There are many, and each one of them deserves a fair wage and protection at work.

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