Gig workers: unsung heroes and a strategic role in the UK national response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester

Abstract

Home-isolation and lockdown are necessary for preventing infectious disease transmission, with many of our basic needs provided by platform companies and delivery workers. This sector plays a vital role in reinforcing the infection control measures and reducing public anxiety by keeping logistics functioning and services and supplies available. Mounting anecdotal evidence suggests that gig workers are unsung heroes and deserve more attention and protection. We aim to understand how gig workers, with a focus on delivery workers, have contributed to suppressing transmission by increased delivery to households. In addition, we consider the possibility that they could become a route of transmission if adequate occupational health protection is not provided. We will conduct focus groups and interviews with industry participants and delivery workers to collect data on the volume and pattern of deliveries. We will then use mathematical models to determine how the delivery sector contributes to minimising the risk of spreading the disease and the impact of additional measures to protect the workers and reduce infection risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. The outcome will inform the UK’s policy making in social distancing and coordination of supply chains as a key component of national response.

Technical Summary

This COVID-19 Rapid Response award is jointly funded (50:50) between the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research. The figure displayed is the total award amount of the two funders combined, with each partner contributing equally towards the project.

With surging numbers of total confirmed cases and deaths, the UK has entered the most stringent social distancing stage in history. Of all the key worker groups, delivery workers is the one has most gig workers who are precariously employed. Huge spikes in demand have been reported by supermarkets, online grocers and food delivery services. The employers have responded by hiring more workers or requiring existing employees to work longer shifts. Certain epidemiological characteristics of the COVID-19, namely subclinical transmission, incubation period and varying viability on surfaces, present significant challenges to protect delivery workers. We aim to understand, based on different scenarios of risk mitigation measures and social distancing strategies, 1) how delivery workers contribute to the UK’s national response by delivering to households and hence reduce number of outgoing trips; and 2) how delivery workers could potentially contribute to transmission. We will collect data from key stakeholders of the sector to understand how the supply chains and delivery workers responded to the COVID19 outbreak and to build scenarios for mathematical modelling. Using these models we will assess the impact (positive and negative) of current delivery activities, as well as additional scenarios reflecting stricter lockdown conditions, taking into account effect of risk mitigation measures, by considering the number and nature of contacts they made in the communities (including vulnerable groups). Household transmission models will be used with external forcing into households and infection back to gig workers directly considered.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Preliminary modelling results presented by Nina Day at the Parcel Carriers Safety Association
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Rapid review manuscript requested by Public Health Wales
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description Workplace Health Expert Committee
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact As part of the Workplace Health Expert Committee, Professor van Tongeren contributed to the development of a position paper discussing the utility of testing for COVID-19 infection in the workplace. This is currently being considered and prepared for publication by the Health and Safety Executive
 
Description Healthy express couriers: Tackling stress at work in a digital era
Amount £83,978 (GBP)
Funding ID MR/T027215/1 
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2020 
End 10/2021
 
Description Lancaster University CoCoNet social contact research 
Organisation Lancaster University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We contributed to the development of the questionnaires used in the second and third round of surveys. For the second round, we suggested questions in relation to occupations and social circumstance. The third round is a bespoke survey for delivery workers for the purpose of understanding the contacts and interactions they made during work. We also contribute to the promotion of the surveys using social media and press release.
Collaborator Contribution Prof. Jobathan Read and Jessica Bridgen contributed to this collaboration by working with us to develop the questionnaires and release them using the CoCoNet survey portal. We also work together to promote the survey by developing the narratives of social media campaign and press release and organizing prize draw.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration across the disciplines of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, Occupational and Environmental Health and Mathematics.
Start Year 2020
 
Description National Core Studies -- Theme 2 
Organisation Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The National Core Studies are a series of large-scale collaborative projects funded directly by HSE to study aspects of COVID-19. Theme 2 is focused on modes of transmission and modelling. Ian Hall is a Co-Invesitigator on both this project and the NCS Theme 2. Through my work on this MRC grant, I have presented my progress to the NCS Theme 2 team, and myself and Ian have contributed to writing a "modelling primer", which was the primary objective of the first work-package in the project. I have also had several collaborative discussions with Nick Warren (HSE), as we have developed similar agent-based models of SARS-COV-2 transmission in workplaces. In the process of this I have shared results and methods informally.
Collaborator Contribution NCS theme 2 partners have disseminated findings from their research at fortnightly group meetings which has helped to shape my research in this project. Furthermore, I received feedback on my modelling approach which has altered the modelling work I have produced.
Impact No outputs yet
Start Year 2021
 
Description National Core Studies -- Theme 2 
Organisation Imperial College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The National Core Studies are a series of large-scale collaborative projects funded directly by HSE to study aspects of COVID-19. Theme 2 is focused on modes of transmission and modelling. Ian Hall is a Co-Invesitigator on both this project and the NCS Theme 2. Through my work on this MRC grant, I have presented my progress to the NCS Theme 2 team, and myself and Ian have contributed to writing a "modelling primer", which was the primary objective of the first work-package in the project. I have also had several collaborative discussions with Nick Warren (HSE), as we have developed similar agent-based models of SARS-COV-2 transmission in workplaces. In the process of this I have shared results and methods informally.
Collaborator Contribution NCS theme 2 partners have disseminated findings from their research at fortnightly group meetings which has helped to shape my research in this project. Furthermore, I received feedback on my modelling approach which has altered the modelling work I have produced.
Impact No outputs yet
Start Year 2021
 
Description National Core Studies -- Theme 2 
Organisation University of Leeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The National Core Studies are a series of large-scale collaborative projects funded directly by HSE to study aspects of COVID-19. Theme 2 is focused on modes of transmission and modelling. Ian Hall is a Co-Invesitigator on both this project and the NCS Theme 2. Through my work on this MRC grant, I have presented my progress to the NCS Theme 2 team, and myself and Ian have contributed to writing a "modelling primer", which was the primary objective of the first work-package in the project. I have also had several collaborative discussions with Nick Warren (HSE), as we have developed similar agent-based models of SARS-COV-2 transmission in workplaces. In the process of this I have shared results and methods informally.
Collaborator Contribution NCS theme 2 partners have disseminated findings from their research at fortnightly group meetings which has helped to shape my research in this project. Furthermore, I received feedback on my modelling approach which has altered the modelling work I have produced.
Impact No outputs yet
Start Year 2021
 
Description Business engagament 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Between April and July 2020, the project team talked to a few delivery and logistics companies to promote participation from the industry. The activities were facilitated by UoM's FBMH Business Engagement team.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Conference abstract accepted by Occupational Health 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In June 2020, a conference abstract entitled "In response to the COVID-19 epidemic: gig workers and national strategic preparedness" was accepted as poster presentation by Occupational Health 2020 by Occupational Medicine - the official Journal of the SOM. The conference is rescheduled to July 2021 due to the pandemic.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://occupationalhealthconferences.com/index.html#Top
 
Description Conference abstract accepted by the MODERNET COVINAR 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In October 2020, a conference abstract on the rapid review conducted by the team was accepted by the MODERNET COVINAR, online webinar on COVID-19. Dr. Sarah Daniels presented at the conference,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.modernet.info/modernet-covinar/
 
Description Facebook and Twitter promotion for the CoCoNet delivery workers survey 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Between December 2020 and January 2021, the digital marketing team of UoM launched a social media campaign for the delivery workers work contact survey that is a collaboration between this project and the CoCoNet study at Lancaster University.
https://www.facebook.com/1657120817951953/posts/2677366049260753; https://twitter.com/FBMH_UoM/status/1335973509152059395
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.facebook.com/1657120817951953/posts/2677366049260753
 
Description Interview by Hits Radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Prof. Martie van Tongeren was interviewed by Hits Radio in April 2020 about this project. Hits Radio is a network of 26 contemporary hit radio stations, reaching over 25 million adults with the UK's most influential brand network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description LinkedIn blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact In June 2020, Prof. Martie van Tongeren published a blog on LinkedIn to promote the project with industry and businesses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6677221920410275841/
 
Description LinkedIn campaign to engage businesses in the logistics sectors 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact In July, August and September 2020, digital marketing team of UoM launched a LinkedIn campaign for this project to facilitate the engagement of businesses. It targeted companies in the delivery and logistics sectors and generated a few useful leads.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Podcast by Alone Together 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In June 2020, Prof. Martie van Tongeren was interviewed by Alone Together to produce a Coronavirus podcast, during which Martie advised employers and workers on return to work as lockdown measures were easing. This podcast was subsequently picked by Manchester Evening News and The Edinburgh Evening News and the Scotsman.
https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/alone-together-podcast-staying-protected-18387707
https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/read-this/alone-together-podcast-series-two-coming-soon-how-you-can-get-involved-2899801
https://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/how-workplaces-will-have-change-protect-staff-alone-together-podcast-2875840
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/alone-together-podcast-staying-...
 
Description Presentation at the Aerosol Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact In October 2020, Prof. Martie van Tongeren gave a presentation about the project at the Aerosol Society conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Press release by UoM 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A press release of the award by the University of Manchester on 17 April 2020 under the title of "Study to research role of delivery workers in preventing COVID-19 transmission"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/study-to-research-role-of-delivery-workers-in-preventing-...
 
Description Webinar on COVID-19 by Prof. David Denning 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In December 2020, Prof. David Denning provided a webinar on The COVID-19 story so far: infectivity, treatment, testing, transmission and vaccine. The recording was posted on Youtube within the Thomas Ashton Institute channel.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qcqOM5NrpU&t=1237s