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Accepted Paper:

The forgotten essential worker: Brazilian cleaners’ experiences amidst the Covid-19 pandemic in London  
Ana Luisa Sertã (Birkbeck UCL)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores the diverse experiences of Brazilian cleaners in London and the combined precarities that characterise the domestic work sector before, during and after the Covid-19 outbreak. Within this debate, it highlights women's agency, strategies and digital media practices in the period.

Paper long abstract:

Following the Covid-19 outbreak, some categories of workers gained temporary visibility and national praise in the UK, particularly in the health sector. Others, however, occupied a more ambiguous position as workers who could neither follow the “stay home” guidance nor gained the headlines for their services. Brazilian migrants in London are heavily represented in two of these sectors through which many households outsource their social reproduction needs: house cleaning and food delivery. This paper discusses the overlooked position of migrant cleaners in the pandemic as what Pandey, Parreñas and Sabio (2021) have called expendable essential workers, whose work has been deemed essential but not the workers themselves. Mobility disruptions and new hygiene standards created a period of high demand for migrant cleaners in London and exposed the essential character of domestic work as care work. At the same time, insecure migration statuses, job instability, undervaluation and employers’ mixed attitudes are examples of long-standing issues that added to the risk of working behind closed doors. Drawing from ethnographic research and interviews carried out between 2020 and 2022, I explore Brazilian cleaners’ diverse experiences during this period and what these may reveal about the combined precarities that characterise the sector before, during and after the pandemic outbreak. Within this discussion, I highlight my interlocutors’ agency and practices that spanned across online and offline spaces, from the creation of ingenuous solidarity networks on social media to the strategic combination of different types of informal work, including in the male-dominated sector of delivery riding.

Panel P035
Feminist perspectives on mobile essential workers: the pandemic as turning point? [Medical Anthropology Europe (MAE) & Anthropology and Mobility (AnthroMob)]
  Session 2