At the height of the pandemic workers in critical occupations enjoyed nightly public applause. Now they need longer-term, concrete appreciation.
By Nadja Dörflinger – The coronavirus pandemic has recalibrated our definition of who and what are critical to the economy and society. Whereas the banking sector was deemed ‘systemically’ significant in the economic crisis following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, entirely different occupations and sectors have come to the fore. Today, staff in retail, logistics or care are considered critical for society, having fulfilled the public’s basic needs through the nadir of the crisis.
Those critical occupations share two commonalities. First, they are frontline service roles, characterised by direct contact with customers, patients or related groups. According to the European Working Conditions Survey (2015), about 41 per cent of employees in Europe perform interactive service work. Secondly, workers in critical occupations often suffer from comparatively bad working conditions (despite some across- and within-sector differences). Wages tend to be low, atypical forms of employment are widespread and long-term career perspectives are frequently scarce.
Where does the disadvantage of workers in systemically relevant sectors and occupations come from? In the case of Germany, there are three sources: the regulatory system, the socio-demographic characteristics of the workforce and the intrinsic nature of the work.
The main sectors in which critical occupations can be found have generally suffered from relatively weak sector-wide regulation. In retail and logistics, individual employers have increasingly opted out of collective-bargaining, challenging trade unions and the authority of collective agreements. A race to the bottom has replaced a level playing-field, as accommodating employers feel the need to downgrade their standards to remain competitive. This is particularly evident in retail, where in Germany only 20 per cent of companies still accept collective agreements.
The patchwork of regulations in the systemically relevant sectors and jobs is reflected in working conditions. Part-time and non-standard employment are widespread: ‘mini-jobs’ (as they are called in Germany) across the board, with also agency and student work in retail and logistics, and voluntary work in care. In combination with the relatively low wages in these sectors, this may lead to in-work poverty and old-age-poverty in the long run.
In the context of the pandemic, working conditions may have become even more challenging, for instance in terms of working time and work intensity. Workers and unions alike are challenged by this. more>
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Tagged Business improvement, Capital, Health, Internet, Jobs, Occupational Health and Safety, Occupational stress, Skills
Unselfish Molecules May Have Given Rise to Life
New research from Center for Chemical Evolution demonstrates experimentally evaluates alternative model to ‘RNA World’ hypothesis, emphasizing collaboration and co-evolution
By Moran Frenkel-Pinter, Nick Hud, Loren Williams – It’s a question older than science: How did life begin? In modern biology, life depends on life to live. But how did the mutualistic relationship between different molecules – which led, eventually, to complex biological systems, like human beings, for example – actually come to be?
For many researchers, the answer lies within the ‘RNA World,’ a widely-accepted hypothesis in which self-replicating RNA proliferated, serving a dual role as both genetic polymer and catalytic polymer, long before the evolution of DNA and protein.
The RNA World model is an attractive cradle-of-life premise, according to Georgia Institute of Technology researcher Moran Frenkel-Pinter, “because it avoids the extreme improbability of simultaneous independent origins of two different types of polymers. According to that theory, over time the RNA World incrementally invented the ribosome, giving rise to the current biological system comprised of RNA, DNA, and protein.”
She adds, “it’s kind of a parsimonious idea, basically saying that RNA made everything. But there is a much simpler solution.” Frenkel-Pinter and her research partners have offered an alternative – the concerted evolution of polymers – of nucleic acids and proteins. “A Ribonucleoprotein World,” quips Frenkel-Pinter, a research scientist and former NASA Postdoctoral Fellow who works in the labs of Nick Hud and Loren Williams at Georgia Tech, and is the lead author of a recently published paper that provides experimental support for this model.
The paper, “Mutually stabilizing interactions between proto-peptides and RNA,” in the journal Nature Communications, describes the chemical linkage that could have been at play during the origins of biopolymers. Their results suggest that neither nucleic acids or proteins came first, but that RNA and proteins were selected together through a process of co-evolution. In other words, it wasn’t a single selfish gene competing for survival that drove evolution; it was the rising tide of collaboration between molecules from the very beginning. more>
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Tagged Business improvement, Capital, Evolution, Health, Internet, Molecule, Skills, Technology