The Covid-19 pandemic has accentuated the challenges for workers in non-traditional, temporary, under-protected, part-time, and otherwise precarious environments--and reflect complex dynamics in the evolution of labor markets and working conditions. Against this backdrop, Jack Howard, Editor-in-Chief of Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, reflects on these challenges, as well as opportunities, for employees and employers with respect to the principles of SDG8.
My research generally centers around employee rights and workplace issues that employees and employers face. This includes issues surrounding microlabor markets and worker rights, as well as the implications of workplace violence and bullying. Employee Relations and Responsibilities Journal publishes a wide range of research about employees and employment, including research on precarious work, decent work, and economic growth. My research and the journal’s focus overlap considerably. The journal strives to publish high-quality research that includes precarious work and research related to SDG 8.
Certainly Covid-19 has increased the pressures of precarious work. Workers in the service sector, particularly dealing directly with consumers, were hit very hard with lockdowns and limited business operations. Many of these workers were already in precarious roles, and this increased pressures on these types of workers to continue to pay their bills at the height of the pandemic. It also may have increased the number of individuals moving into microlabor markets in order to make ends meet. In many of these cases, requestors lay out tasks that workers can complete for payment. The challenge is that there have been complaints over time about fair wages and other worker issues in these environments. Covid has simply put more pressure on individuals who desire to work, particularly precarious work, as there is no long- term commitment to these workers in many cases.
My response will focus on the employees. In my opinion, the two greatest pressures are job security and fair wages. These are issues that researchers can examine in multiple ways. Microlabor markets, such as Uber, Reddit, and MTurk, are one example. Research can be conducted to determine if this type of precarious work is paying a fair wage. There have been questions regarding this raised in research, as well as suggestions indicating what microlabor workers can do to improve their effectiveness and efficiency to ensure a fair wage. Research can be conducted examining temporary workers, examining their wages, job security, and benefits, as well as conversions from temporary employment to full-time opportunities with the same organization. Conducting this research and publishing its findings can also play a role in policy development. All of these are ways in which researchers can contribute to improvements for those in precarious work.
In my opinion there is likely no single way to effectively address the challenges facing precarious work. I believe precarious work needs to be approached in numerous ways. Certainly, changes in public policy are one possibility. For example, I have heard a lot about increasing minimum wage in the United States over the past several years. If one examines minimum wage, many states and some municipalities have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage. Some employers have raised the level of pay for their entry-level positions to a much higher level than the minimum wage they must comply with.
However, we need to be more creative than that. There is a youth sub-minimum wage in the United States; however, the wage is quite low. Perhaps we can identify various options for different types of jobs. For example, when I was a teenager I worked a part-time job. It provided an opportunity to make some money, but it further enhanced my work ethic as well as learning how to interact with customers, including those who were upset about service. It allowed me to see things behind the scenes that the public was not aware of. These are all opportunities that young workers should get in order to learn about the nature of work, and hopefully motivate them to identify what they want to do and why they want to do it as an adult. What is more important is that experience in the long run. The challenge is how is that balanced with the potential of employers to focus on a lower wage than doing what is right. That could be abused. Nonetheless, there are a lot of really bright and creative people who might be able to work on how to approach these challenges in successful ways.
First, researchers should pursue the research they are passionate about. That will help researchers see more opportunity. Second, consider practical implications of your research. Research that has application to society, businesses, and a range of other organizations may end up being picked up by the media. Once the media picks it up, it is possible that individuals in positions in organizations, including the government, will see other ways your findings might be useful in their organizations. I have witnessed colleagues who have had a tremendous impact in their local communities because their research was picked up by local media and employees and employers saw value in the outcomes that could be applied to their organizations and the lives of their employees.
About Jack L. Howard