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Precarious labour under lockdown

Impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on displaced Syrian agricultural workers in the Middle East.

Published: 6th May 2021

This is a Research Summary of the Precarious Labour under Lockdown report. The research was led by Dr Ann-Christin Zuntz at the University of Edinburgh and brought together Edinburgh-based researchers from the One Health FIELD Network, Syrian and Jordanian academics affiliated with the Council for At-Risk Academics and Syrian Academic Expertise-Academic Centre for Development and Peace Studies, and Turkish researchers from the not-for-profit cooperative Development Workshop.

The research documents how Covid-19 related movement restrictions at regional and local levels and the economic effects of the pandemic have changed working conditions for Syrians displaced across the Middle East working in the informal economy under precarious conditions, with no financial or social safety net.

It sheds light on how the pandemic has exacerbated factors linked to increased risk of vulnerability and has entrenched existing problematic relationships of dependency and exploitative working conditions in the agricultural sector. The economic pressures of the pandemic, combined with more longstanding structural marginalisation, informal work, ill-health, and lack of education, risk trapping Syrian agricultural workers in an intergenerational cycle of poverty and exploitation, which will continue beyond the end of the current crisis.

Key findings:

  1. Agricultural production continues for displaced Syrians during the pandemic, but workers’ livelihoods have become more precarious.
  2. Displaced Syrian workers’ relationships of dependency with agricultural intermediaries and employers have worsened during the pandemic.
  3. Displaced Syrians’ structural vulnerabilities and working conditions in agriculture are likely to increase their risk of catching Covid-19
  4. No clear evidence that Syrian female and child labour in agriculture has increased during the pandemic, but some working women and children have become more vulnerable.

Key recommendations:

  1. In the short term, policymakers and development agencies should increase social protections for at-risk agricultural workers, including Syrian households, in particular by delivering unconditional cash-based assistance. In preparation for future crises, governments and humanitarian actors should extend social protections to marginalised populations, including statutory sick pay, and establish lines of communication that allow them to reach at-risk populations quickly.
  2. Key stakeholders should tailor their interventions to the specific needs of different demographics of agricultural workers during the pandemic.
  3. Governments, humanitarian actors, private sector actors, and worker, employer, and trade unions should work together to ‘crisis-proof’ entire agricultural production chains and create safe working conditions for all categories of vulnerable agricultural workers.

You can access the full report on the One Health FIELD Network website.

Photo by Development Workshop, February 2020, Adana, Turkey.