ABSTRACT

This paper seeks to demystify the Covid-19 Virus and evaluate the social inequalities brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. The article focuses on social inequalities like discrimination based on gender and color, the substantial differences faced by school-going children currently studying at home, the challenges faced by low-wage workers, and the social inequities brought about by working remotely. The paper further evaluates existing law and suggests how best the law can be implemented and amended to lessen the effects of social inequalities.

 INTRODUCTION 

The emergence of the Covid- 19 pandemics met most governments and countries unprepared for a pandemic. The pandemic has destabilized most economies and rendered a percentage of the employees jobless. This has forced governments to take measures to lessen the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some government measures include: for individuals facing unemployment, the government has enacted a one-week delay waiver to start claiming Employment Insurance sickness benefits. The government has also expanded the scope of the Employment Insurance Program as well as access to it. The Employment Insurance Program is set to cover the self-employed, caregivers of sick family members, caregivers of children due to school closures, contract workers.[1] The Employment Insurance provides them a taxable payment of 2,000 dollars per month, for up to 4 months.[2] As much as the government is trying to manage the pandemic, there had been challenges such as social inequalities. This research sets to establish the social inequalities, the government’s shortcomings, and possible recommendations of how the law can respond to them.

THE PANDEMIC

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Corona Virus outbreak a pandemic.[3] Corona viruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other symptoms, ranging from flu-like symptoms to life-treating respiratory distress in humans and individual animals. The first case of the novel virus was discovered in Wuhan, China, on December 8, 2019. The virus was named COVID-19 on February 11, 2020.[4]The virus quickly spread across China and the world. The world has recorded very many infections over the past few months as well as deaths.

SOCIAL INEQUALITIES

Covid-19 created a breeding ground of increasing economic instability, decreased social welfare protection, and great inequality in access to employment-connected social welfare sources such as health insurance, pensions, and paid sick and family leave. Research done to establish the early effects of Covid-19 reveals that its impact on employment and economic security reveals the existing inequalities on gender, class, and race.[5] Inequality from the pandemic is inevitable. However, nations that have updated their social welfare policies to address the changing labor economy were better prepared for the effects of the pandemic shutdown. The current economic crisis multiplies the protective effects of these policies by millions.[6] Fast and effective policy responses by some countries have lessened the inequality effects.[7]However, the slowed response has led to social inequalities in the following groups of people:

i. Low-wage workers

Although most workers across the income range have been affected by the overarching effects of the pandemic, low-wage workers have been majorly affected. Low-wage workers have lost their jobs and economic security. Most low-wage workers work in industries that have been immensely affected by the pandemic. Low-wage workers work in industries such as retail, hospitality, entertainment, and travel industries.[8] The workers in these industries are likely to have their employment terminated permanently due to the pandemic. In contrast, those workers that can work remotely are the better-educated lot and better-paid workers.[9]

Moreover, many low-paid workers are likely to contract the virus because they work in areas prone to the virus such as health care workers, meatpacking and food processing workers, grocery and retail workers, and mass transit workers. These employees are at a high likelihood of contracting the Corona virus, yet they are paid minimally, and they lack essential covers like paid leave and health insurance.[10] Despite the workers working in unfavorable conditions, the compensation programs do not cover community-spread illness even if contracted at work. The low-wage workers are essential, but they are not sufficiently protected. Low-wage workers continue to work hard with minimal protection and high-risk exposure to the virus and their families.

ii. Inequality by Gender: Women

The pandemic has also caused adverse effects by gender. Most women work in the hospitality and tourism industries, and these industries have been hit the hardest by the shutdown resulting from the pandemic.[11] The rate of women unemployment in May was high compared to the status of unemployment of men. The unemployment percentage of women is 14.3%, whereas that of their male counterparts is 11.9%.[12]Covid-19 has also led to the collapse of child care centers where women are the majority of workers. The closure of childcare centers has also led to unprecedented distress on mothers who are the primary caregivers to their children. Based on the division of chores and duties in households, women are more likely to be affected than men. Single parents, especially mothers, are likely to take the biggest hit as they are in a disadvantaged economic position.[13] Scholars postulate that the pandemic can overburden the women as they spend more time on homeschooling and active childcare. The closure of schools and the collapse of childcare facilities is likely to hit single mothers twice as much as mothers who have partners.[14]

In addition to spending most of their time with their children, the absence of mandatory sick leave and paid family leave amplifies the pandemic’s disadvantageous consequences. Workers who lack paid leave are likely to go to work ill, and their families are likely to be affected because these workers cannot provide care to sick family members. If the workers attend to their family members, then they are likely to face unemployment. Access to sick leave is also expected to increase unemployment rates.

iii. School closures and Children’s Education

The pandemic led to the closure of schools to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The extended closure of schools has led to social inequalities as parents take over educating their children. The equalizing effect that schools provide is likely to be compromised. Research shows that children in wealthy and stable families have better access to educational material and spend more time studying. By contrast, children in less-disadvantaged backgrounds have difficulty accessing educational materials and necessities like food and shelter. Children in less disadvantaged backgrounds are having difficulty in accessing amenities like the internet and even recreational facilities.

Further, students in private schools are having high-quality access from schools. They have better engagement between teachers and students. They have access to video chats, online chats, and online classes and are likely to be more productive than their counterparts in public schools.

iv. Inequality by Race

Workers affected by the loss of jobs and retrenchment are mostly people of color. Black, Asian and Hispanic workers have experienced high levels of unemployment compared to their white counterparts. In particular, Hispanic women experienced the highest retrenchment rate.[15] Research statistics indicate that the quality of unemployment for Asian, Black, and Hispanic workers was 20% compared to the unemployment rate for their white, counterparts which were 13.5%.[16]

Structural differences in the modern economy segment aid in explaining these distinct racial effects; for example, remote work is more common in areas where workers are well educated and paid fairly. However, racial minorities and women work in sectors that have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians work in travel and transportation, restaurants and bars, retail shops, and manufacturing industries. Not only did unemployment hit them hard, but also these workers are paid lowly.

The pandemic’s reality on workers of color is more adverse, and there are fewer resources available to them to cope. The workers of color are likely to face the long-term adverse effects of the pandemic. Therefore, the unequal effects of the pandemic heighten the already existing inequalities posed by race.

v. Working remotely and critical workers

The pandemic has adversely affected those working in health care and other services duped as ‘essential services.’ Those providing services like security, healthcare, those working in retail shops and manufacturing industries have been forced to continue working. Some of the essential workers work in poor conditions that promote the spread of the virus. Those working in security firms are not even appropriately paid, and they are not privileged enough to have paid leave or sick leave.

Further, some workers who have been asked to work remotely may have their employment terminated and their wages cut.

IMPLEMENTATION AND AMENDMENT OF LAW TO CURB SOCIAL INEQUALITIES POSED BY THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

  1. Implementation of Paid Leave Policies

The lack of paid leave and sick leave necessitate policies by the state and employers. Policies will shift the overarching burden from employees to employers and the government. Policies will also spread the risk of costs through state-mandated programs paid for by employee payroll deductions. Nations and countries with paid leave policies reduce the effect of sickness on family and worker economic welfare for the typical illnesses and care giving realities of life. The systems recognize the workers’ challenges every day and how best the State and Employers can respond to such challenges.

2. Reform of Employment Insurance

There is a need to reform employment insurance and access to it. Large and profitable corporations should protect their workers so that there are minimal layoffs. Also, employers should provide insurance incentives to their workers. Employees should be encouraged to have employment insurance. Further, employees should be sensitized on their right to sue their employers for wrongful dismissal, for employers to honor the pension payments and fulfill other obligations. Companies with liquidity issues should be given access to emergency loans and low-interest bearing loans to prevent them from becoming insolvent.

3. Protection of Human Rights

Even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is fundamental for governments and employers to safeguard and protect people’s rights. The European Court of Human Rights has, over the past six decades, ruled over the limits of state powers in times of emergency. Some of the fundamental human rights include Article 2, “freedom of movement,” Article 8, “Right to respect private and family life,” Article 9, “Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, Article 10, “freedom of expression,” Article 11, “Freedom of assembly and association.” With the pandemic, these fundamental rights are likely to be limited. However, as ECHR; the proportionality test will strike a balance in case of a conflict and infringement of the rights. For example, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, and association are likely to be limited because of the government directives requiring people to quarantine and self-isolate to curb the virus’s spread.

Self-isolation and quarantine create a challenge to human rights. The human rights doctrine states that human rights restrictions should only be imposed if there is concrete danger or risk associated with the individual. Governments don’t need to provide legal justification for limitation of rights; governments can claim to have invoked exceptional powers. According to Article 4(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), such Declaration is justifiable, and parties can notify the United Nations Secretary-General.

Relying on derogation under Article 4 of ICCPR during a pandemic derives its lawfulness from the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“Siracusa Principles”), in particular paragraphs 25 and 26. Endorsement of restrictive measures by WHO is relevant and corresponds with paragraph 26 of the Siracusa Principles. General Comment 29 to the ICCPR acknowledges the likelihood to limit the freedom of movement under Article 12 ICCPR, and the freedom of assembly under Article 21 ICCPR. In outermost circumstances, 

According to Article 9 ICCPR, the right to liberty may be limited, though the court must validate such measures’ lawfulness.

4. The Right to Equality and Non-discrimination 

In the wake of the pandemic, discrimination has been experienced in the workplace. The rate of women who have been rendered jobless is higher than that of their male counterparts. Apart from discrimination based on gender, there has also been discrimination based on race. The percentage of Blacks, Asians, and Hispanic people who have lost a source of income is higher than whites. Besides, the blacks, Asians, and Hispanic people work in low- paying jobs compared to their white counterparts. The following legislation provides for provisions against discrimination:

  1. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 states that “All human beings are born free ad equal in dignity and rights” while, according to Article 2, 

“Everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms outlined in the Declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or another status.

Moreover, distinction should not be based on the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it is independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of the sovereign.”

Concerning the right to equality, Article 7 of the Universal Declaration stipulates that:

“All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of the Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

Therefore, article 2 of the Universal Declaration prohibits any distinction.

2. The right to equality and freedom from discrimination is protected by provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 26 of the Covenant is the primary provision that safeguards the right to equality and freedom from discrimination. It states that, 

“All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

3. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979

Article 1 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women describes “discrimination against women” as meaning.

“Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

4. The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against anyone based on race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

In light of the above legal provisions, it is unlawful to treat anyone differently based on gender, color, race, origin, or sex. The acts of discrimination against women or Blacks, Asians or Hispanics are unlawful, and legal action should be taken against companies and employers who discriminate against people based on color or gender.

CONCLUSION

Despite the occurrence and pandemic and social, economic, and emotional challenges that come with it, it is essential to protect individuals’ human rights and uphold their human dignity. For low-wage workers, their health must be put into consideration. The workplaces of all workers should be safe and in case they fall ill, quality medical care should be made available to them. It is also necessary for employers to adhere to the law, most especially those employers that discriminate against their employees based on age, gender, color, and nationality/origin. It is also essential for employers and employees to be adequately prepared for adverse occurrences like pandemic by taking on Employment Insurance. This pandemic has brought about valuable lessons. Moving forward, countries should learn from this pandemic and enact safeguards against future pandemics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Books

Richard Blundell at al, Covid-19and Inequalities, 41 FISCAL STUD. 291 (2020)

Journal Articles, Newspaper Articles and Conference papers

Alan Berube and Nicole Bateman, Who Are the Workers Already Impacted by the Covid-19 Recession? , BROOKINGS(April 3, 2020)https://www.brookings.edu/research/who-are-the-workers-already-impacted-by-the-covid-19-recession/

Alexander W. Bartrick et al, What Jobs Are Being Done at Home During the Covid-19 Crisis? Evidence from Firm-level Surveyshttps://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/what-jobs-are-being-done-at-home-during-the-covid-19-crisis-evidence-from-firm-level-surveys

“Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan” https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html

Catherine Albiston and Catherine Fisk, “Precarious Work and Precarious Welfare: How the Pandemic Reveals Fundamental Flaws of the U.S Social Safety Net, 42 Berkeley Journal Of Employment and Labor Law (forthcoming 2021).https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3690686

Hospitalization Rates and Characteristics of Patients Hospitalized with Laboratory- Confirmed Coronavirus Disease , CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION(April 17, 2020)https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6915e3.html

Joan C. Williams, Real Life Horror Stories From the World of Pandemic Motherhood, New York Times (August 6, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/opinion/mothers-discrimination-coronavirus.html

Josh Cummingham, COVID-19 : Workers’ Compensation , NAT’L CONF. OF STATE LEGISLATURES (July 28, 2020)https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-workers-compensation.aspx

“Naming the Coronavirus (2019-nCov): Situation Report- 1st (21 January 2020) https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-

guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-itry 2020) 

Tedros, Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on Covid-19 – March 11 2020”

Titan M. Alon et al, The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality (Nat’ l Bureau of Econ. Rsch. Working Paper No. 26947,2020)

Rakesh Kochhar, Unemployment Rose Higher in Three Months of Covid-19that it Didin Two years of theGreat Recession , PEW RSCH. CTR. (June 11, 2020), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/11/unemployment-rose-higher-in-three-months-of-covid-19-than-it-did-in-two-years-of-the-great-recession/


[1] “Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan”https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html

[2] Ibid

[3] Tedros, AdhanomGhebreyesus, “WHO Director-General’s Opening Remarks at the Media Briefing on Covid-19 – 11th March 2020”

[4] “Naming the Coronavirus (2019-nCov): Situation Report- 1st (21 January 2020) https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-itry 2020) 

[5] Richard Blundell at al, Covid-19 and Inequalities,  41 FISCAL STUD. 291 (2020)

[6] Catherine Albiston and Catherine Fisk, “Precarious Work and Precarious Welfare: How the Pandemic Reveals Fundamental Flaws of the U.S Social Safety Net, 42 Berkeley Journal Of Employment and Labor Law (forthcoming 2021).https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3690686

[7] Ibid

[8] Alan Berube and Nicole Bateman, Who Are the Workers Already Impacted by the Covid-19 Recession? , BROOKINGS( April 3, 2020)https://www.brookings.edu/research/who-are-the-workers-already-impacted-by-the-covid-19-recession/

[9] Alexander W. Bartrick et al, What Jobs Are Being Done at Home During the Covid-19 Crisis? Evidence from Firm-level Surveyshttps://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/what-jobs-are-being-done-at-home-during-the-covid-19-crisis-evidence-from-firm-level-surveys

[10]  Hospitalization Rates and Characteristics of Patients Hospitalized with Laboratory- Confirmed Coronavirus Disease , CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION( Apr. 17, 2020)https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6915e3.htm

[11] Josh Cummingham, COVID-19 : Workers’ Compensation , NAT’L CONF. OF STATE LEGISLATURES (July 28, 2020)https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/covid-19-workers-compensation.aspx

[12] Rakesh Kochhar, Unemployment Rose Higher in Three Monthsof Covid-19that it Didin Two years of theGreat Recession , PEW RSCH. CTR. (June 11, 2020), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/06/11/unemployment-rose-higher-in-three-months-of-covid-19-than-it-did-in-two-years-of-the-great-recession/

[13] Titan M. Alon et al, The Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality (Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Rsch. Working Paper No. 26947,2020)

[14] Ibid

[15] Joan C. Williams, Real Life Horror Stories From the World of Pandemic Motherhood, New York Times (August 6, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/06/opinion/mothers-discrimination-coronavirus.html

[16] Supra note 12

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