Pandemic Necrolabour and Essential Workers in the UK and France


  • Sarah Waters University of Leeds



Drawing on recent studies on the necropolitics of Covid-19, this paper focuses on UK and French government policies towards essential workers, examining the conditions under which workers were systematically exposed to deadly harm within these two contrasting economic models. I argue that the pandemic revealed a category of necrolabour whose labour value supersedes their right to life and who could be legitimately sacrificed in the interests of the economy. Statistical recording shows that internationally, death rates amongst low-income essential workers were disproportionately high. We will see that workers’ exposure to death was as much a consequence of state authority that compelled them to continue working, at risk to their lives, as an outcome of official negligence that left many unprotected and lacking basic rights. Without legislative changes to improve employment rights and social protection, the unnecessary deaths of socially marginalised workers in essential jobs are likely to persist in the post-pandemic economy.