Risk and Resistance Strategies in the Cleaning Industry



COVID-19, gender, Katz, race, Sri Lanka


The voices of migrant women in precarious and poorly paid work have been missing from recent debates on the impacts of the COVID-19. This article aims to redress this balance by exploring how a migrant woman cleaner understands and balances risks relating to COVID-19. The cleaning sector has been characterised by the lack of PPE, the impossibility of physical distancing and pressure from employers to work in the absence of adequate social distancing norms. A series of in-depth interviews with a Sri Lankan cleaner sheds light on the strategies developed to counter risks to herself and to her family. The paper uses Cindi Katz’s (2004) theoretical insights on the spectrum of resistance available to powerless and marginalised people. The finding is that the cleaner deploys a reworking strategy, in which diasporic knowledge is used to protect her health. The result is that the pandemic is understood as an unexpected but manageable risk which does not interfere with her long-term life goals. This article provides an essential perspective from a low-paid worker: a presence which has been invisible in reporting and policy-making on the COVID-19 pandemic.


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