July 16, 2020
The COVID‑19 pandemic has had a major impact on employment patterns across Canada, with economic lockdown and public health measures enacted in March 2020 affecting an increasingly mobile workforce.
Throughout the pandemic, the On the Move Partnership – a research project involving the Vanier Institute and university partners that explores the impact of employment-related geographic mobility – has published information and insights in their COVID‑19 and the Mobile Labour Force series. This Research Recap highlights some of their work on multiple aspects of the pandemic’s impact, including gender, migrant workers, truck drivers and the impact on coastal fishing communities.
Deatra Walsh, PhD, provides a first-hand account of moving through St. John’s on standstill, amid the COVID‑19 pandemic. She underlines the notion of walking as “a particularly important form of mobility,” an ability that women do not always experience as a freely taken or comfortable action, as unbothered or undisturbed.
Walsh speaks to walking as a coping mechanism, as it offers routine that can contribute to one’s well-being, while all else may feel uncertain and uprooted. In her reflections of the visually empty neighbourhood, she also reflects on life pre-pandemic. Have communities already been social distancing from one another (before it was a mandatory public health measure), turning “inward to our devices and our lives?” she asks. However, she also acknowledges symbols of solidarity – of being alone together – through window art and pot clanging from doorsteps.
Shiva Nourpanah, PhD, and Kerri Neil explore how the pandemic uniquely affects the labour and livelihood of migrant health care workers in Canada. The pandemic has amplified vulnerabilities of senior populations and residents of long-term care homes. Nourpanah and Neil underline how a high proportion of the workers in these facilities are migrant workers and nurses here on temporary work permits. With health care workers already facing high risk of infection and mental health impacts, the precarious nature of their resident status exacerbates these stresses. The authors raise two particular challenges of this complex situation: guidelines for self-isolation reduce a health care worker’s shifts, which in turn can affect their visa requirements regarding the obligatory number of hours they must work; yet, more shifts increase their exposure and risk of contracting the virus.
Moreover, the pandemic has brought the suspension of concrete immigration plans, including sponsorships, family reunification and marriages. These uncertainties only contribute to the mental and emotional toll placed on temporary migrant workers. For these temporary residents who are providing essential work for Canada, their well-being and resident status may be inevitably and adversely affected by the pandemic. However, the article’s authors assert that some of these impacts can be reduced with proper research and policy-making.
Gale Burford, PhD, and Barb Neis, PhD, outline the ways in which remote coastline fishing communities face limited health care access, which, when coupled with the interconnectedness of work mobility, raise their own concerns and challenges within pandemic management. While such communities are remote, they are nonetheless connected to national and international markets. With fishing being categorized an essential industry, the mobility of supply chains creates risk of virus spread. This is a risk that can be difficult to avoid, as these communities are also often single industry towns and thus rely on these fishing seasons.
In this article, Burford reflects on a FaceTime call with his sister, who resides in Cordova, Alaska, a coastal fishing town. While the town depends on the income of the fishery, fears of exposure to infection with the coming of migrant labour forces and the consequential strain on health care services were prevalent. These concerns are echoed within coastal communities across the Atlantic Canada. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the fishery season was delayed, and further delays were still called for in order to develop protocols to protect the safety and well-being of workers and their families. The authors note that Employment Insurance can contribute to mitigating the difficulty of weighing health and against the need for employment and income.
Among the services deemed essential in the COVID‑19 pandemic is transportation and shipping of goods. Trucking is critical in Canada, transporting 90% of food and consumer goods, including necessary medical supplies. Natasha Hanson, PhD, and Kerri Neil underline some of the challenges that truck drivers now face on the road, during the pandemic context, including limited availability of convenient food sources and access to bathroom facilities.
The trucking industry was already facing a labour shortage pre-pandemic. Now, the difficulty of maintaining well-being on the road and the risk to safety amid continued travel has prompted even more drivers to retire or quit. With the reliance on trucking for transportation of necessary goods, but the challenges that the work entails, it has yet to be seen how the pandemic will impact the industry in the long-term.
Visit the On the Move Partnership website for more research and resources.
Gaby Novoa is responsible for Communications at the Vanier Institute of the Family.