Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 has drastically disrupted everything from the global economy to everyday life. Key features of the pandemic include its impacts on the world of work. For the past 8 years, the On the Move Partnership has been studying the mobile labour force, the estimated 16% of the Canadian labour force that engages in extended/complex mobility to and within work. Constraining and managing mobility of all kinds is a core feature of pandemic response. Politicians and chief medical officers tell us on a daily basis to go home and stay home. The result has been massive layoffs and widespread unemployment, as well as an increase in working from home, primarily among white collar workers. The mobile labour force is partially comprised of millions of transportation, health, agricultural, construction and other types of workers whose work is deemed essential and who are thus still on the move. In Canada and elsewhere, pandemic planning initially paid little attention to these workers. The result was often serious effects of travel bans, boundary closures and quarantine requirements, coupled with lack of attention to their risk of infection on their lives, their health and their ability to get to and do their jobs. More recently, a series of post hoc initiatives have been taken intended to, on the one hand, allow workers deemed essential to moving goods and people, providing essential care and sustaining infrastructure, to keep moving while, on the other hand, minimizing the risk their mobilities pose to themselves, other workers, and particularly to clients and the general public.
We have argued since the beginning of On the Move that greater understanding of how extended/complex mobility for work affects workers and their families, employers, source and hub communities is essential to Canadian and indeed global prosperity. It is also essential to ensuring effective pandemic planning and management that is also just in that it does not unnecessarily threaten the lives and livelihoods of these workers, their families and their communities.
It is in this context that we are launching our COVID-19 and the Mobile Labour Force series. The series begins with a working paper that brings together insights from relevant media coverage with insights from On the Move research across multiple sectors and groups to highlight key developments and issues and to be used as a resource for future work. This working paper is linked to a series of blogs done by On the Move co-investigators and others and focused on particular sectors and issues.
The series includes:
● COVID-19 and the Mobile Labour Force by Barb Neis, Kerri Neil, and Katherine Lippel
● COVID-19 and the Plight of Informal Cross Border Traders in Zimbabwe: Working Paper by Denboy Kudejira
● Walking the Empty City: Feminist Reflections on Life Suspended under COVID -19 by Deatra Walsh
● Temporary and Precarious Migration Status and the Experience of the Pandemic in Canada’s Health Care Sector: Emerging Themes by Shiva Nourpanah and Kerri Neil
● How COVID-19 Has Impacted Offshore Workers in Norway by Marit Aure
● People Who Carry Food and Fuel for the World are Trapped at Sea: A Crewing Crisis in the Context of COVID-19 by Desai Shan
● The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Canadian Truck Drivers by Natasha Hanson and Kerri Neil
● COVID-19 and Coastal Fishing Communities by Gale Burford
● COVID-19 and the Plight of Informal Cross Border Traders in Zimbabwe: Summary by Denboy Kudejira
● COVID-19 and (Im)Mobile Workers in Alberta’s ‘Essential’ Oil Industry by Sara Dorow
● A Virus That Doesn’t Discriminate? by Stephanie Premji