Young workers and women are likely to be the hardest hit by the coronavirus shutdown of businesses such as restaurants, hotels, pubs and retailers.
Low earners are seven times as likely as high earners to work in a business sector that has shut down, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. Their analysis found a third of the bottom 10% of earners worked in the worst-hit sectors, against one in 20 (5%) of those in the top 10%.
Women are about one-third more likely than men to work in a sector that has been shut down, as they make up the bulk of retail and hospitality workers. One in six female employees worked for businesses hit by the lockdown, compared with one in seven of their male counterparts.
Xiaowei Xu, an author of the briefing note, said: “There is a remarkable concentration of younger and lower-paid workers in the sectors most affected by the current lockdown. Women are also more likely to be affected than men. The problem is compounded by the number of jobs in these industries being zero hours contracts or guaranteed hour contracts which guarantee far few hours that the workers normally work”.
Immediately the labour movement must demand these workers are paid at the normal rates whilst their workplaces are shut. We must demand decent contracts and better pay across retail, tourism and hospitality.
The Covid-19 crisis has made very visible the importance of labour, both in essential services and in sectors heading for collapse because workplaces cannot open. It has also highlighted inequality within the working class, with far worse terms and conditions in areas of low union density and high numbers of young, women and migrant workers.
The labour movement must fight for equalising-up of contracts.
The shrinking of public sector, and in particular local government, has chucked many women out of relatively secure unionised work on better terms into unemployment or precarious industries. Local government funding should be increased to at least 2010 levels and privatised services should be brought back in house.
A rationally planned economy would take vulnerable workers out of essential food distribution on full pay and redeploy workers from other sectors into expanded supermarket and food delivery provision. It would offer up space and buildings from hospitality and tourism to enable more space for exercise and reduce overcrowded or unsafe housing.
It is possible even a right-wing Tory government will bring in some of these measures: they are being compelled to enact some degree of public planning against the logic of the market to deal with the crisis.
It is the labour movement’s job to push for the greatest possible increase in working-class conditions, and to protect them when the government wants to go back to “normal”.