Research by Sheffield Hallam academics will form the basis of a new podcast exploring the struggles of those who worked in restaurants, pubs and fast-food outlets during the pandemic
The Beers, Burgers + Bleach podcast explores the accounts of 21 hospitality workers from around the UK who were interviewed and completed a work diary between December 2020 and April 2021.
The aim of the year-long research project is to recognise the work done by hospitality workers and encourage better working conditions and higher pay in the future. They also hope to explore the relationship between public health, cleaning labour, and the availability and accessibility of toilets.
The podcast reveals that food and drink workers experienced poor mental and physical health due to “intense” workload demands, catching Covid and unpaid “work” such as washing and replacing uniforms and face coverings and recuperating from difficult working patterns.
The project is part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science and is based on research funded by the University of Exeter’s Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health (WCCEH) led by Dr Charlotte Jones from the University of Exeter, Dr Jen Slater and Dr Jill Pluquailec from Sheffield Hallam University and Dr Lauren White from the University of Sheffield in close collaboration with hospitality workers, trade unions and local campaigns.
The podcast mini-series has three episodes: 1) Struggles, on the physical and mental impact of work during the Covid-19 pandemic; 2) Solidarities, on union organisation, community, and activism in the sector; and 3) Sanitation, on cleaning labour and the importance of toilets in hospitality during the pandemic.
In Struggles, one anonymous worker referred to as “Ben”, said: “Hygiene is my primary concern with going back. I’m the only member of staff who would have to use public transport regularly to go to and from work, which is something I was very uncomfortable with before returning to lockdown and has only become more of a concern now.
“I definitely feel as if I raise the risk of introducing Covid to the workplace quite significantly. I was very strict with my conduct regarding my own hygiene on public transport and throughout work, and yet in the run-up to the November lockdown I still contracted Covid.
“Thankfully, my co-workers had tested negative and were okay, but it was a big hit to my psyche to live in fear for so long of contracting this illness and introducing it to home and having that become my reality.”
Bill, who’s in his 60s and has been working in the hospitality sector for 50 years, told researchers about difficulties dealing with customers who were unwilling to comply with regulations.
Bill said: “When we’ve been asking them to do things, ‘Can you put a mask on?’ ‘Can you sanitise your hands?’ ‘Will you fill a track and trace in?’.
“It’s as if they’ve been in a different world because they might go to a supermarket and they’ll put a mask on, but when they come to where I work it’s a different world, ‘Why do we have to do it here?’.
“It’s as if Covid’s stopped at the door and doesn’t affect the inside. People’s attitudes have been absolutely horrible; we’ve been sworn at and abused and everything else.”