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Work After Coronavirus

The coronavirus crisis has stimulated the growth of online work . It's not only about the professional middle sectors, but also the workers of the so-called "platform economy". How can this work be regulated with criteria of justice against an overwhelming capitalism?

The trend to work remotely online is experiencing a decisive boost as the Covid-19 forces companies and organizations to impose remote work policies in a world that increasingly prohibits physical contact. The sudden shift to remote digital work, en masse and overnight, has the potential to accelerate changes in the way we work and in our ideas about work organization.

If we look at the bigger picture, the Covid-19 may prove to be a momentous turning point for the digital transformation of the workplace. It seems almost impossible for the digital genius to be locked back in the bottle once the health emergency is over.

As the virus continues to spread, for the first time some employees will be working from home, in digitally enabled contexts and not limited to traditional office space. Their working lives will be greatly altered, turned upside down. However, for millions of workers around the world who do one-off jobs on demand, transferring their working lives to the internet isn't new. It's the usual way of working.

Specially for those doing collaborative work in the small business economy or " gig economy ," "work" isn't a place: it is a web-based task or an activity that can be done from anywhere that allows internet connectivity. . Many millennials and Generation Z members today experience the gig economy model precisely because of the flexibility and freedom that remote digital work can offer. The Covid-19 could be the catalyst to take the evolution of the 'work anywhere' organization to another level, greatly improving opportunities to collaborate, think, create and connect productively.

Immense pressure

However, not everything is rosy. Currently, the Covid-19 is putting enormous pressure on the contingent of low-paid workers who carry out small assignments, often linked to digital platforms - such as transport or delivery of food. These workers who lack or have inadequate access to unemployment insurance or sick leave benefits are the most affected in the United States, Europe and Asia, after medical, nursing and other personnel. health sectors. In some of the countries with the highest number of infected, such as Italy, some delivery people working for food delivery applications continue to work because they cannot afford not to.

Consequently, the Covid-19 crisis puts those who rely on small jobs for work as their main source of income in an extremely vulnerable position against (even fatal) health risks. It undermines their dignity and intensifies the social and economic divisions that could potentially generate new cracks, anger or political discontent in many countries and regions.

As the crisis unfolds, these workers will not be the only ones who suffer more than usual. In mid-March, the International Labor Organization (ILO) released a "high" estimated global unemployment figure of 24.7 million due to Covid-19; a week later, the head of the Employment Policy Department of the same institution warned that the final figure could be "much higher" still. In comparison, global unemployment increased by 22 million during the 2008-2009 crisis. It's also expected that globally there may be as many as 35 million more working poor than before the pre-Covid-19 forecast for 2020.

An important message

These statistics offer an important message: protecting workers from the adverse effects of the crisis doesn't only mean increasing protection for traditional jobs. It also means better including and protecting those who work at the margins: those who hold non-traditional jobs in the areas of tourism, travel, retail, and other more immediately affected sectors, dependent self-employed with unstable income, hourly workers without activity and workers poorly paid in precarious conditions who have little chance of benefiting from recent emergency measures packages in many countries, as recent evidence shows.

Persistent gaps in social protection coverage for workers - in "old" and "new" forms of employment - constitute a fundamental challenge for labor markets in the post-Covid-19 context. This is important mainly for the future of work that we want to create in the digital age. We need to facilitate digital work because of the many benefits it can offer to companies and workers. But we must not allow it to assume for workers a format - of deprivation and social deprivation - that's too common in today's gig economy .

Along with the death toll, the war metaphors that world leaders in the fight against Covid-19 have invoked these days reveal an awkward truth. We are faced with the fundamental failings and weaknesses of our labor and social policies, solidarity mechanisms and collective responsibility models to manage the risks that fall unfairly and severely on the most vulnerable population.

Decent digital work

What can be done? A broader, more skillful and inclusive recovery is essential so that the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on labor markets is less far-reaching. We need to make our digital future immune to the "virus" of precariousness, that our labor markets are built on the principle of human dignity and the potential of "decent digital work" for all.

It's a vision of total participation in a digital future of work that provides respect for oneself and dignity, security and equal opportunities, representation and voice. It's also about defining a model of "digital liability by default": a totally different attitude in society regarding the role of States and the private sector, to ensure that labor standards are updated to better respond to the constantly changing reality of the digital fields of work.

In these tragic circumstances, there is a lesson for the future: the experience of workers in the gig economy shows that going digital means more than just changing channels. It's about readapting labor markets, protection systems and social assistance and ensuring that everyone has the capacity to realize the human right to social security in the post-Covid-19 digital era. No society or organized democracy can afford to ignore the vulnerable situation of workers who have little social protection and yet are essential during a crisis.

If done right, we can create a fair working future. Therefore, more than ever, the message to legislators, employers, workers and their representatives is direct: get ready for the day after. Include precarious digital work within the scope of social protection. Take action for decent digital work, and do it now.

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