The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been unequal depending on the resources and opportunities people have to cope with the pandemic. Intersectional burdens have been reproduced, as care and maintenance work have fallen disproportionately on the shoulders of women and migrants. Given the ‘essentiality’ but low valuation of these workers, it becomes fundamental to understand their experiences and demands as a basis for developing more effective policies to support them. In Switzerland and elsewhere, most so-called essential workers are low-wage workers, working in jobs related to care and maintenance. They have endured stronger negative economic impacts and job insecurity and reported more health and mental health issues during the pandemic. They also have been more exposed to the virus, mainly because of the higher likelihood of working at the frontlines and fewer opportunities of working from home.
This SNSF-funded research project will retrospectively examine the experiences, struggles, and policy demands of non-healthcare urban essential workers during the pandemic in Swiss cities. Specifically, we will focus on public transportation drivers, daycare personnel, urban cleaning workers, and store clerks in Zürich and investigate daycare personnel in Lausanne. Our approach allows us to examine the often precarious working conditions of urban essential workers and the potential mismatch between their received policy support and their provision of key labour in difficult conditions. In addition, the project will study how Swiss decision-makers and the wider population perceive and evaluate these workers and policies in support of them, and how these valuations contrast with the lived experiences of urban essential workers.