COVID-19: Work and inequality
The pandemic accelerated changes in the ways we work and revealed gender bias in the labour field.
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered an economic crisis, as stated in a previous report, shown in the labour market. It caused changes in the ways we work and provoked more unemployment, mostly in certain working groups, with the social problems it involves.
Professor of Sociology Marta Soler says the pandemic situation accelerated changes in the ways we work, which were taking place already: “We are required to use online tools more and more, including digital platforms and social networks, and how to apply these so that they work and provide improvements”. According to Raúl Ramos, professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business, “there is a new organization regarding work, in some sectors, such as finances, the organization will continue like this after the pandemic, and for others, although face-to-face activities will be recovered, some of the changes that result from the lockdown will remain the same”.
In any case, the negative consequence of COVID-19 is unemployment. “The lockdown during the first State of Alarm and the measures to contain the pandemic had dramatic effects in the labour market: 8% of the population was unemployed and 17% of the population was temporarily unemployed due to the records of temporary employment regulation (ERTO in Spain)”, notes lecturer Lídia Farré. ERTOs, a new tool in employment policies which are used for the first time in this crisis, “prevented unemployment from growing rapidly if compared to previous crises, but there has been a great number of temporary contracts that have not been renewed”, notes Raúl Ramos.
Therefore, unemployment has affected collectives with a higher incidence of temporary contracts, such as young people and immigrant workers. According to the Labour Force Survey, the unemployment rate for people under 25 years old was about 40% by late 2020, which represents three times the global unemployment rate, when this ratio is usually twice the global unemployment rate. In fact, while employment in Catalonia decreased by 4% between the forth trimester of 2019 and the fourth trimester of 2020, this fall was 37% for people aged between 16 and 19, and 11.4% for those aged between 20 and 24.
Lecturer Judit Vall notes there are inequalities among the working groups when suffering the consequences of the pandemic: “Some people suffered more dramatically the effects of the demand decrease in their sectors, like in mobility restrictions. At a sectorial level, workers from the service sector, where a close interaction with the customers is what prevails, had less chances to develop their tasks through remote work”. Also, temporality is another important factor: “The service sector has a high incidence in temporary contracts and this translates into the fact that many of these workers could not maintain the ERTO situation during many months in the pandemic and ended up losing their jobs and therefore growing unemployment lists”.
Apart from differences in sectors, the pandemic stressed inequalities, in the educational level, for instance. “People with lower education levels carry out more manual tasks and therefore, they have more difficulties to conduct their tasks online. As a result, there has been a great job loss in these collectives. Those who could maintain face-to-face activities at work, because they are considered essential, have been exposed to the contagion risk. Therefore, there are more inequalities regarding work and health”, notes Judit Vall.
Gender, work and pandemic
“Due to the pandemic, women spend more time to house chores and taking care of the children, as a result from the restrictions in academic, extra-curricular activities and non-essential services”. Lídia Farré says these words on the topic of inequality and gender during COVID-19, and she adds that “this increase in women’s dedication to non-paid work can have negative effects on their long-term personal development”.
“COVID-19 increased social inequalities in general, but specially gender inequalities, which are stressed if we consider social class, the community one belongs to, nationality, ethnics, age or gender and sexual identity”, variables that can increase women’s vulnerability during the pandemic, as stated by Elisabet Almeda, professor of Sociology. “Many women work in the service sector, and many of these work in those sectors considered as essential, which brings them closer to the negative consequences of the pandemic, such as death, tiredness, stress and apathy”, warns the researcher.
Examples of these jobs are healthcare, assistance, cleaning and hygiene jobs, “which are always feminized and are not economically valued the way they should be, although the pandemic made it clear they are very important”, notes Almeda. “Definitely, the pandemic has shown the importance of care for life sustainability and the low visibility this sector has in our economies”, she concludes. Given this situation, we need “feminist public policies that prioritize people’s care and lives, that support, value and compensate economically, once for all, the related jobs”.
Regarding the role these public policies can play in post-COVID-19 society, Professor Marta Soler notes that “the pandemic situation and its resulting economic crisis brought an increase in inequalities, but at the same time it brought an increase in social awareness that will generate more support for the programs to overcome them”.