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Jacobin - March 5, 2020

"Independent contractors working in the gig economy have no right to sick leave or health-care benefits. TheWashington Posthas reportedthat drivers have been scrubbing their cars. Of course, these drivers are not being paid for the time spent on cleaning. Unlike Lyft, Uber sent their drivers an in-app message detailing precautions they should be taking. This only underlines the reality that they are its employees — and should be treated as such."

“Presenteeism” Is Dangerous

Bosses will always decry absenteeism among their workers. However, in times of coronavirus, we should be more worried about the opposite — “presenteeism,” by those who ought to be resting or getting medical treatment but who feel forced to show up for work.

Take food service workers, who often earn so little that missing a day’s work will leave them in the lurch. As one Twitter user commented, if such workers don’t have sick pay, they’ll continue showing up — possibly meaning they’ll help spread the virus. Only 46 percent of service workers received sick-leave benefits in 2017, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Britain, meanwhile, paid sick days often start after the third day missed. Nonetheless, the pub chain JD Wetherspoon — which counts more than 45,000 employees — has said that it will treat coronavirus like any other illness, meaning that ill workers who stay at home for fear of spreading the virus will be left out of pocket. The pub chain’s part-time workforce will be hit particularly hard — workers in Britain are only entitled to sick pay at all if they earn at least £118 a week.

In China, the scene of the first mass outbreak, private-sector companies have cut workers’ wages or delayed payments. In many cases, workers have been forced to use their vacation days and prepare for unpaid leave. At Apple supplier Foxconn, workers are returning to work on a third of their wages after returning from quarantine. Restaurant workers, meanwhile, find themselves unemployed as clients stay away.

Some employers are making changes. London’s Financial Times is advising white-collar professionals on the etiquette of working at home, and argues that the much-vaunted advent of remote working, outside the office, is finally becoming a reality. Traditional businesses are now moving toward smart and agile working, once exclusively performed in Silicon Valley and the tech industry, in order to prevent their employees from catching the virus and losing more working days. Oil company Chevron has asked its 300-odd London-based staff to work from home.

But these white-collar workers moving to remote working will make a tiny impact on the overall spread of the pandemic, for millions of service and manufacturing workers need to be present at the workplace to perform their jobs. Have workers turn up to work sick, and you risk infecting customers and clients; have them stay at home, and you might have to shut down your business altogether.

The problem is, the culture of “presenteeism” places the burden of the decision on workers — often meaning they’ll turn up to work when they should be staying home. The balance of forces in the workplace — the tyranny of the boss and the worker’s need for wages — thus imposes an irrational decision that endangers society as a whole. If showing up regardless counts as “loyalty to your job,” it’s not actually any good for your coworkers — or for customers.

The Jobs, They Are A-Changing

Yet not only white-collar work cultures are changing. It is also changing workers’ job content — and what our employment looks like. This is particularly the case for those who work in industries that might contribute to disease prevention, such as cleaners and health-care workers; medical staff that can remedy the worst effects of the virus; as well as others who could potentially spread it.

In Nigeria, where the first coronavirus patient was identified this weekend, security guards are being mobilized to distribute sanitizer to people entering buildings. Using some of the lowest-paid workers to prevent an outbreak ought to go hand in hand with added benefits for risky work and, indeed, the right to sick leave so that they can actually do their job effectively. Sadly, this is far from necessarily the case — with the most under-pressure workers instead burdened with more responsibilities but not more remuneration. ...
Read full report at Jacobin