Urban essential workers

What does it mean to be an essential worker during the Covid-19 pandemic? This research studies the experiences and policy support demands of urban essential workers, the people that keep the city running despite of everything.

  • Project description

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    The project will retrospectively examine the experiences, struggles, and policy demands of non-healthcare urban essential workers (such as public transportation drivers, day care personnel, urban cleaning workers, and delivery workers) during the pandemic in Swiss cities. This focus allows the research group to not only examine the often precarious working conditions of urban essential workers, but also the potential mismatch between their received policy support and their provision of key labour in difficult conditions. In addition, the project will study how Swiss decision-makers and the wider population perceive and valuate these workers and policies in support of them, and how these valuations contrast with the lived experiences of urban essential workers.

  • Background

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    In Switzerland and elsewhere, most so-called essential workers are low-wage workers, working in jobs related to care and maintenance. They have endured stronger negative economic impacts, more job insecurity, and have reported more health and mental health issues during the pandemic. They also have been more exposed to the virus, mainly because of higher likelihoods of working at the frontlines and fewer opportunities of working from home.

  • Aim

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    The project is guided by four main research questions:

    1. What are the experiences, struggles, and policy demands of urban essential workers during the pandemic?
    2. How do those experiences, struggles, and policy demands differ between diverse types of urban essential workers?
    3. How do decision-makers assess the need for policy support for different types of urban essential workers?
    4. How are policy support measures for different types of urban essential workers accepted by the population?
  • Relevance

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    The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been unequal depending on the resources and opportunities people have to cope with the pandemic. Intersectional burdens have been reproduced, as care and maintenance work has fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of women and migrants. Given the ‘essentiality’ but low valuation of these workers, it becomes fundamental to understand their experiences and demands as a basis for developing more effective policies to support them.

  • Application

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    The project is guided by considerations of participatory research. It takes the co-creating of knowledge seriously. Therefore, the project centers on the experiences and policy demands of urban essential workers. In addition, the project will create strong partnerships with relevant governmental officials, politicians, union and workers association representatives, employer organization representatives, and activists. These partnerships will help to translate the research findings into action.

  • Original title

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    The COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for urban essential workers