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Home » COVID-19 and the World of Work » COVID-19 and the World of Work: The First Year

COVID-19 and the World of Work: The First Year

In March 2020, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Guy Rider proclaimed (Ryder, 2020) that the coronavirus pandemic is “not just a medical crisis, but a social and economic one too.” Workers throughout the world are experiencing the pandemic in dramatically different ways as the rapidly evolving global health crisis collides with existing political, social, and economic conditions. Physical distancing, online learning, and working from home are the new normal for many people (Dingel & Neiman, 2020). However, there are others for whom this is not possible, ranging from health workers and grocery clerks (Lan et al., 2020) to precariously employed “gig” workers (Jeon & Ostrovsky, 2020) and migrant workers (Migrant Rights Network, 2020 [PDF]). Indeed, COVID-19 has adversely affected most workers across the world (Cortes & Forsythe, 2020), including job losses, pay cuts, and rolling back of workers’ rights as well as mounting workplace health and safety concerns (Weerasinghe, 2020) and enduring emotional and mental trauma (Lima et al., 2020). These changes to the world of work are at once old and new, as the long-standing, sustained realities of a polarized labour market have been exposed and exacerbated.

  • How are workers around the world coping, responding, resisting, and organizing?
  • What lessons can we learn from these unfolding developments about global labour conditions and the future of labour movements?
  • How have existing political and economic contexts informed federal, provincial and municipal government interventions and public health responses, and how have those responses affected employment and workplace conditions?

Research Database

The GLRC has worked to support researchers and activists who are tracking and analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work by documenting and archiving the wide variety of resources that have emerged during the pandemic. From March 2020 to April 2021, the GLRC has amassed a digital database of more than 900 newspaper articles, academic journal articles, blogs, op-eds, white papers, and policy briefs documenting the challenges that different groups of workers have been experiencing around the world. In addition to a large repository of documents relating to Canada, the database seeks to account for how complex histories of colonialism, imperialism, and unequal economic relations have affected workers and employment relations across the globe.

The resources in the database tell the unfolding stories of COVID-19 and working lives, including not only paid employment but also informal or “under the table” work and unpaid labour, including caregiving, piece work, sex work, and the administrative and emotional management of households. These documents examine the impacts of COVID-19 on all kinds of workers, from migrant farm and factory workers to health care, public sector, and low wage “essential” workers, as well as outlines emerging labour concerns and policy recommendations for the future. The pandemic has both exposed and altered the interdependencies of local and global economic conditions with potentially far-reaching consequences for labour. By drawing many threads together in one repository, we hope that the database will not only facilitate ongoing research but also open new avenues for inquiry.

We invite you to join us in this effort. The GLRC brings together diverse perspectives and fields of expertise – from Law, Political Science, Work & Labour Studies, and Human Resource Management to History, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Sociology – alongside workers and labour activists working together toward more socially and environmentally just work for all. We welcome suggestions, feedback, relevant articles, or new ideas for this project.


The GLRC COVID-19 & the World of Work archive is broadly organized along five themes, in line with the core research agenda of the GLRC, with a focus on the impacts of the pandemic. Although these themes serve as a rough categorical framework, there is substantial overlap on many issues.

1 – The changing nature of work, employment & labour rights

This research theme addresses the rapidly changing aspects of work, employment, and labour rights during COVID-19, including changes in labour policy and labour law; shifts in working conditions, labour markets, and service delivery models; and emerging labour concerns including the role of human rights, technology, and wage supports in pandemic and post-pandemic economies.

2 – Gender, race, & Indigeneity in work and livelihoods

This research theme covers a wide range of topics related to gender, race, and Indigeneity in work and livelihoods, including the unequal effects of the pandemic on employment rates and working conditions for women and racialized people; its impact on unpaid and informal labour such as family caregiving and household management; and the potential long-term effects of the pandemic on the lives of women, and Indigenous and racialized people.

3 – Health, well-being & work

This theme brings together research covering the workplace, health, healthcare, and social welfare. COVID-19 has increased everyday health and safety risks for all workers, with particular risks for healthcare workers, disabled workers, and aging workers as well as a broad range of often low-wage and racialized “essential” workers. This theme is intended to evaluate the working conditions and policies that affect not only work in the health care sector but also the health and well-being of workers in all sectors and the potential long-term effects of the pandemic on survivors’ working lives.

4 – Migration, citizenship & work

This research theme focuses on the relationship between labour and the movement of people, especially across national borders. Research covers the effects of worldwide public health and quarantine measures on the conditions of migrant labour, supply chains, and cross-border trade relations as well as the effects of changes in (im)migration and citizenship policies on workers and the wider impacts of immigration status on types of employment, working conditions, job security, and access to health care during the pandemic.

5 – Power & inequality in unions & workers’ movements

This theme documents how trade unions, social justice movements, and other forms of worker organizing are reacting and adapting to the changing conditions of both labour and social movement organizing throughout the pandemic. Documents explore the many ways that workers and other groups subject to economic and social injustice have responded to the unequal distribution of risk and hardship during the pandemic, from advocacy and policy responses to emergent forms of mutual aid and protest.

Access the Database

The GLRC COVID-19 & the World Work database is hosted via Zotero, a free, open-source research and document management software. Zotero libraries may be viewed and used within your web browser or as a standalone application on your computer. For more information about using Zotero to assist with your research, the York University Library staff have created a helpful guide here.

To access the database, you will need a Zotero account:

The database is public, which means that anyone with a Zotero account can view it by logging in to the Zotero group page.

Only group members can add new resources and view the group in the Zotero standalone client.

Contact Us

If you have any other suggestions or questions about accessing or contributing to the database, please contact Please note that this is not a technical support contact and response may not be immediate.


This database was created with the assistance of Hasan Arshad, Drew Danielle Belsky, Tinu Mathew, and Safi Yusuf.


These resources are among the many available in the database.

Cortes, G., & Forsythe, E. (2020). The Heterogeneous Labor Market Impacts of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Upjohn Institute Working Papers.

Dingel, J. I., & Neiman, B. (2020). How Many Jobs Can be Done at Home? (No. w26948). National Bureau of Economic Research.

Jeon, S., & Ostrovsky, Y. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on the Gig Economy: Short and Long-Term Concerns. Statistics Canada.

Lan, F.-Y., Suharlim, C., Kales, S. N., & Yang, J. (2020). Association between SARS-CoV-2 infection, exposure risk and mental health among a cohort of essential retail workers in the USA. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, oemed-2020-106774.

Lima, C. K. T., Carvalho, P. M. de M., Lima, I. de A. A. S., Nunes, J. V. A. de O., Saraiva, J. S., de Souza, R. I., da Silva, C. G. L., & Neto, M. L. R. (2020). The emotional impact of Coronavirus 2019-nCoV (new Coronavirus disease). Psychiatry Research, 287, 112915.

Migrant Rights Network. (2020). Behind Closed Doors: Exposing Migrant Care Worker Exploitation During COVID-19 (p. 40). Migrant Rights Network.

Ryder, G. (2020, March 27). COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of our economies [Comment]. International Labour Organization (ILO).

Weerasinghe, S. (2020). Occupational Health and Safety Standards of Foreign Seasonal Farm Workers: Evaluation of Personal Protection Measures, Policies and Practices. In K. Palaniappan & P. McCauley (Eds.), Occupational Health. IntechOpen.