Background: This Working Paper considers the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on employee experiences of work in the transport sector including: changes to place of work, challenges faced while working through the pandemic, employer support offered to employees, and areas where employees believed support was lacking.
Some 46 individuals were interviewed (or in one country took part in focus groups) in the summer of 2020 during the covid pandemic, in order to collect views from a wide range of professionals. These represented multi-level samples in terms of city level (Warsaw), regional level (Catalonia region of Spain), and national levels (Ireland and UK (Scotland and England)).
Findings and Conclusions: The main findings relate to both: ‘front line’ transport workers such as drivers and others working in the field in customer-facing roles, who required particular health and safety support due to the covid pandemic; and office workers where there was a major move towards homeworking. While the value of the data discussed is mainly in its richness in terms of employee views, the broad summaries and conclusions for the specific research questions are now set out.
1. During COVID did you work at home or at your usual location? Overall, the responses suggest that the areas and countries were similar in terms of changes to work location. They do however point out how a worker’s role influenced their work location and wider concerns about covid at this time. As may be expected, ‘front line’ roles that were usually carried out in the field and were deemed essential during the pandemic, such as drivers and inspectors, continued to work in their usual location. Other roles, generally officed based, shifted rapidly from the workplace to working from home or a mix of both.
2. Can you tell us about the key challenges you faced by working in your usual location? Individuals working in their usual location, and who are not customer-facing workers that is those who usually work in the office, shifted to a mix of working from home and office, and generally did not report any specific challenges. However, the data does highlight that customer-facing, ‘front line’ workers, who worked in their usual location during the pandemic faced considerable challenges. Hence the ‘roles’ of the workers had the biggest impact on level of challenge faced. It is important to note that ‘front line worker responses mainly involved participants from the Spanish and Polish data were predominantly ‘front line’ workers, while few such workers were involved in the Irish and UK samples. Some further specific issues included: the lack of protective equipment for employees which seemed to be an issue in the initial stages of the pandemic when resources were limited; some customers not adhering to the covid safety measures that had been put in place; and those working in their usual workplace being challenged by conflicts and variations between safety measures and changes to regulations.
3. Can you tell us about the key challenges you faced working at home? Themes emerging from the data indicated that participants working from home faced some key technical challenges such as limited access to their work computers, laptops and printers particularly at the beginning of the lock downs, although there were some cases when this persisted throughout lock down. Technical challenges were also discussed in relation to multiple users attempting to access the internet at the same time and band width problems with many home workers stating that having partners and children at home, who also required access to the internet for home schooling etc., made it difficult at times to log on during normal working hours. This resulted in many participants claiming they had to alter their usual working hours to work more early mornings and late nights to accommodate their partners and children. A lack of childcare generally during lock down meant that most children were at home with working parents during the day. These same parents then had responsibility not only for continuing their own work but also the additional responsibility of home schooling their children, this was reported across areas/countries and participants. A further challenge of working from home for many of the participants related to missing their co-workers and social interactions or “water cooler conversations”, with participants who worked both at home and in their usual location agreeing that the best part of working in their usual location on certain days was the social interactions with their co-workers.
4. How did your organisation support you? Participants reported that employers supported them well during the outbreak of covid in several ways, when working from home or in their usual workplace and upon returning to work. With regard to support received for those who moved to working from home, the majority of participants were satisfied with the measures their organisation undertook to support their shift to working from home, by providing everything from risk assessments and office equipment to IT support. With regard to participants who continued to work in their usual location the support provided by employers included the introduction of covid safety measures, such as Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) although sometimes this was delayed, and other safety measures and employer preparation for future outbreaks. Employees also benefited from a separation of workspaces, staggered worktimes, increased contact with managers, communication on non-work-related topics and general interaction, and support for the mental health and wellbeing of individuals. In addition, participants noted that the support they received included things like no reduction in wages for those whose hours were cut, no job losses and some appreciated opportunities to be redeployed to non-customer facing work or to work part time for a period. For parents work flexibility was particularly important.
5. What could your organisation have done to support you more/better? Some employees thought their organisation could have provided better support, although they recognised that as they were working through a crisis it was understandable that there were few opportunities for socialising virtually and some employers did not explicitly support these. Most appear to have felt well supported by the employers in the circumstances.
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Cullen, A., Hail, Y. & McQuaid, R. 2021, Working Paper on Impacts of COVID-19 on employment fairness in the transport industry – challenges, employer support and flexible working, DIAMOND. Available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1893/33525