Essential, yet Invisible: Working Conditions of Delivery Workers during COVID-19 and beyond

Type Research Project

Funding Bodies
  • Chamber of Labour Vienna

Duration Dec. 15, 2020 - Aug. 15, 2021

  • Institute for Social Policy IN (Details)
  • Institute for Human Resource Management IN (Details)
  • Competence Center for Sustainability Transformation and Responsibility WE (Details)


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  • Bikic, Sabina (Former researcher)
  • Hajro, Aida (Details)
  • Kohlenberger, Judith (Details) Project Head
  • Vafiadis, Irini (Former researcher)
  • Zilinskaite, Milda (Details)

Abstract (English)

The role of essential workers during COVID-19 outbreak has received academic and public attention. In most developed economies, migrant workers are disproportionately represented in occupations deemed as essential (e.g., healthcare, food supply, cleaning and maintenance). Yet, many of these key workers are caught in precarious employment structures, including fixed-term employment, part-time work and fake self-employment with lack of social and health insurance. Especially in low-skilled and low-status essential jobs, labor exploitation can be observed.

Despite the dependence of high-income countries on essential workers, both during and after the COVID-19-pandemic, the working environments, physical and mental health hazards and resulting coping mechanisms of essential workers in precarious labor positions remain under-researched. This is particularly true for the recently evolved group of “self-employed” delivery workers, who are operating on a contract-work basis for the global company. Contracted work entails little to no job security, no insurance, and high levels of work intensity with little social security or societal esteem.

The aim of this explorative mixed-methods study is (1) to gain a deeper understanding of the working conditions faced by self-employed delivery workers in Vienna, Austria, (2) explore the ways they cope with challenges regarding their feelings of stress and safety, intensity of work, hygiene during COVID-19, general working conditions, and societal (mis)appreciation of their role. As a consequence, ways for organizing delivery workers in union-like structures will be evaluated and considered. We also aim to assess in how far these workers’ interests can/should be represented within the scope and framework of the Austrian Chamber of Labor



  • 5352 Human resource management, personnel management (Details)
  • 5428 Migration research, emigration - (Details)
  • 5902 Labour market research (Details)