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COVID-19 and how it’s changing work practices

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

Has the world gone mad? Is the world’s response to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) proportionate to the risks? While the answers to these questions can be debated, the facts are simple.

At the time of writing, 3800 deaths around the world had been reported and 110,000 infections have been recorded. The whole of Italy is now in lockdown as the government tries to contain the virus. In that country alone 473 people have died, the death toll leaping by 97 in one day. Most of those who died are people in their 80s (or older) who have an underlying condition already.

The coronavirus has caused significant upset on the world markets. All stock markets are in freefall and the price of crude oil dropped by about 26% in a few hours on 8 March as Saudi Arabia and Russia enter a price war. Economists are debating whether this is the start of a recession. Arguably, one is overdue since it’s about 10 years since the global financial crisis (GFC).

The virus, for which there is no vaccine (it’s expected to be about 12 months until there’s one) has also disrupted our working practices. A number of employers have ordered their office-based employees to work from home. This may be a good thing as employers legitimise this practise. However, these employees should be entitled to benefits, such as statutory sick pay (SSP) and overtime.

They should also be entitled to other protection. Any government reforms may well be too late for those struck down by COVID-19. Many of these people often work in direct contact with the public.

More immediately. Will this curb anxiety about the spread of COVID-19?

The size of the gig economy worldwide has grown hugely in the last few years. Many younger people travel and work from beaches and bars in different parts of the world. They are freelancers and don’t have any fixed abode. Older people tend to stay in one place, look after other members of their family and pay for sons and daughters to travel. Arguably, they are more focused than the younger generation.

Britain’s gig economy employs some 4.7 million workers, according to analysis from the University of Hertfordshire. Will these employees gain something from a UK government pledge to give workers statutory sick pay (SSP) from their first day off work in an attempt to contain the coronavirus?

In the US, the gig economyis composed of 60 million workers, and it is now an ever bigger slice of the Americanworkforce, according to 2019 figures from CNBC. The prediction is that by 2027 the majority of workers in the U.S. will be contract workers.

As I read today, the biggest gainers from the enforced incarceration are likely to be the makers of hand sanitisers and Netflix. If people are kept inside for 14 days it’s likely they will resort to box sets for company.

It is also likely that there’s a growing demand for delivery service workers. But how will these workers protect themselves against infection? What are gig work firms doing? Delivery firm Hermes has announced it will pay its 15,000 self-employed couriers if they are told to self-isolate, according to an inhouse article on Linkedin, and Deliveroo has said it will consider offering financial support to affected riders in the UK. Uber is in talks to extend drivers’ sickness cover.

As more people have travel restrictions imposed upon them, more could do conferencing online. I imagine online conferencing could boom.

Maybe COVID-19 means we will have to rethink our work practices. Older people will be encouraged to start their own business from home. That will be a good thing.

Photo: How will the coronavirus affect work practices? by Carole Railton (copyright).

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