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Covid-19 has made good jobs ‘better’ and poor jobs ‘worse’—new paper from NESC Secretariat


The Covid-19 crisis is challenging us to re-think how work is valued.  A new paper from the NESC Secretariat, How We Value Work:  The Impact of Covid-19, argues that the Covid-19 pandemic has made good jobs better and more valuable to the worker; and made poor jobs worse, yet more valuable to society.

‘The notion that Ireland has a deregulated labour market or that a ‘race to the bottom’ is being facilitated is simplistic and untrue’ argues the report’s author Dr Cathal FitzGerald. ‘However, the pandemic has magnified existing negative aspects of poor jobs: low and inadequate incomes; insufficient hours, benefits and pensions; and contractual insecurity and lack of representation.  It has brought renewed attention to employment vulnerability’.

Swift State action, introduced in response to the crisis, addressed some of the downsides of poor quality work. However, the underlying challenges remain and the pandemic has added an additional range of issues which is making those same jobs more difficult.  These issues include contact-intensity of the job/risk of infection, the essential nature (or otherwise) of the role, and the inability or ability to work remotely.

The paper develops new categorisations of sectors based on incomes and risk, identifying four categories (See this Figure). The report shows 670,000 workers in ICT, financial and professional services, and wider industry with average annual incomes of around €55,200.  It finds that these sectors have a (low) risk score for Covid-19 of 11.  It highlights the 902,000 workers in retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other valuable services who earn €29,300 per year.  It shows that there is a stark contrast in these low-income sectors: their Covid-19 infection risk score is over five-times higher at 58.

Before the crisis, the NESC Council published work in response to a Government request, on how to address employment vulnerability, associated with low-carbon and digital automation.  This pointed to a need for proactive Government supports and action focused on developing good quality jobs in key sectors and areas.  The key recommendations focused on training and education, protecting vulnerable but viable firms and targeted financial measures.  That report, Addressing Employment Vulnerability as Part of a Just Transition in Ireland, continues to provide guidance on how to address employment vulnerability.

“This new Secretariat research, which reflects on the impact of Covid-19, is at an early stage. But the signals are strong enough to suggest that policy-makers and key stakeholders across society need to consider how the coincidence of the existing negative issues and new criteria will shape and inform our understanding of the quality and value of work”, Dr FitzGerald said.

Read the full report here

Note to Editors
For further information, please contact Dr Cathal FitzGerald,