The impact of Covid-19 on the economy and the world of work is unprecedented: full or partial lockdown measures are affecting approximately 80 per cent of the global workforce, with the harshest effects falling disproportionately on unprotected workers and those working in the informal economy.
For trade unions, the Covid-19 pandemic has cast light on an increasingly common kind of employment relationship in developed economies - forms of work that are associated with lower wages, reduced social protection, income insecurity, and poorer working conditions, as well as challenges over rights to unionise and engage in collective bargaining.
The retrenchment policies of the austerity era have exacerbated the rise in precarious work and had an impact on labour as a whole: undermining the collective bargaining position of those who are organised and further individualising those who are not.
Yet while the pandemic has made visible just how vulnerable many working people are, it has also sharply illustrated the ongoing importance of trade unions – their ability to
Those governments with the most pro-active responses to the pandemic have made a commitment to providing paid sick leave, wage support, income support, mortgage, rent or loan relief and free health care. Significantly, these responses have tended to emerge within those nation states with either a well-established tradition of social dialogue, or the presence of determined campaigning by the labour movement (as was the case for countries such as Argentina, Canada, Norway and New Zealand).
And despite the hostile environment of recent years, unions in the UK have also demonstrated their worth. The
However, it remains the case that the labour movement today is tasked with organising and mobilising a labour force that is more diverse, disconnected and fragmented than that of the mid-twentieth century. This is particularly true of some of the most visible frontline workers of the pandemic - those working within the marketised social care sector. These workers are engaged in typically precarious employment, within what has become an extremely high-risk environment. Worryingly, they are unlikely to be able to avail themselves of their right to withdraw from an unsafe workplace in any great numbers.
Previous WISERD research has examined the retail and fast food sector. This workforce is neither well organised historically, nor in possession of any kind of militant labour movement tradition and will require new configurations and formations of collective representation and organisation if unions are to remain relevant to them in the longer term. this group of workers present the labour movement with similar challenges to those we have previously considered. Our future research, undertaken with trade unions to examine grassroots organising within the social care sector, will explore how workers are organising in this sector and the potential role of unions in representing workers’ concerns and ensuring these key workers are better protected.
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 ILO, 2017.
 Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 provides workers with the right to withdraw from and refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe.
 Existing research has included analysis of such innovative trade union responses to the changing world of work and demonstrated their continued relevance at the workplace. https://wiserd.ac.uk/publications/trade-union-responses-changing-world-work