Corona Virus may change our Workplaces forever

The ongoing Corona Virus pandemic was first identified in the Wuhan province of China in December 2019. The virus primarily spreads between people via respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. There is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment. Recommended preventive measures include maintaining distance from other people, and monitoring and self-isolation for people who suspect they are infected.

Efforts to prevent spreading include travel restrictions, quarantines, border closures. Schools and universities have closed either on a nationwide or local basis in at least 115 countries, affecting more than 1.6 billion students. Factories are closing down both to prevent the spread and also due to shortage of raw materials and intermediary goods from China. Offices are advising white collar workers to work from home. Other workers are being asked to report to work in a staggered manner. Marketplaces are being shut down, or are open with empty shelves as people in panic are resorting to hoarding for worse times. Those working from home are shopping and ordering supplies online.

The growing reliance on the digital medium will have long term effects on our society and economy. With transactions increasing online, local shops and its employees will lose business and employment. There will be further concentration of wealth. With factories shutting down, migrant workers will be forced to go back home as sustenance for them will become difficult. Those who are daily wage workers have lost work as there is virtual lockdown of all economic activity. Domestic workers who are working at multiple homes are susceptible to infection and if they refuse to attend work, they will lose pay. For workers who have no regulation of work and working conditions, this crisis has made them further vulnerable. Social isolation is not an option for this largest section of the workforce.

For workers, be it teachers in closed schools and colleges or white collar employees, working from home this restructuring will allow employers to tighten the grip of surveillance over their work. Offices will be restructured to cut establishment cost and pass it on to employees who can work from home. Teachers providing online lessons to students will create the possibility of schooling without full time teachers. Closed factories may use this as an opportunity to move to new regions with lower wages. This crisis will be seen as a business opportunity for some while for the largest number of people it will spell disaster. Inequality will intensify further.

As employers restructure to regain their profits, it will be essential for workers to also rethink strategies to save our rights, our right to a decent life, a right to public healthcare, a right to freedom, a right to privacy.

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