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Can we reduce risk for essential workers in the next health emergency?

  • Date: Tue, Jan 16, 2024

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By Beth Gormley, Communications and PR Manager, UCD College of Business

On Thursday, January 18th, UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School will host a symposium that will examine essential workers’ job quality and well-being during the pandemic and explore whether essential workers possess the skills and resilience to undertake such a role again in the event of another health emergency.

“The symposium is critically important. The pandemic was difficult for everyone, but it was especially difficult for essential workers working on the frontline,” commented symposium organizer, Professor John Geary of UCD College of Business.  

“They had to meet the pandemic head-on and each day they went to work, whether that was in a hospital, care home, meat factory or supermarket, they faced the very real possibility of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their families.”

“We applauded them and are forever indebted to their courage and hard work. But we must now recognise the risks and effects this work had on them, and acknowledge that female workers in particular were very adversely affected in their work during Covid. It behoves us then to enquire how such negative effects might be mitigated and reduced, and especially if there was to be another health emergency in the future.”

The findings from the UCD Working in Ireland Survey (WIIS) provides the backdrop for the symposium. It is the only study of its kind to have examined the extent to which the pandemic reshaped work in Ireland and with what consequences for workers’ job quality and well-being. 

The major survey of over 2,000 workers in Ireland was led by Professor John Geary and the research team included Dr Maria Belizon (formerly of UCD and now at Comillas Universidad Pontificia, Madrid) and researchers from the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI). Results from the UCD Working in Ireland Survey can be found here.

The symposium brings together key people to examine the position of our essential services across the public sector and the private economy.

Speakers include:

  • Professor Orla Feely, President, University College Dublin (Opening remarks)
  • Professor Tony Holohan, Former Chief Medical Officer
  • Dr Danny McCoy, CEO Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation
  • Ms Phil Ni Sheaghdha, General Secretary, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation
  • Mr Owen Reidy, General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions

“In simple terms, the symposium will address the question, ‘How do we build back better?’. This is particularly important in light of the prospect of the Government launching an inquiry into the State’s handling of the pandemic,” continued Professor Geary. “The resilience of our public health and care system is fundamentally built upon the skills, expertise and preparedness of our doctors, nurses and care assistants.”

The event is open to the public and will take place at UCD Smurfit School on Thursday, January 18 from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. Please register here. Free parking is available.

Agenda: Working in Essential Services: Lessons from Working during COVID-19 Symposium










Meet and Greet



Welcome and opening address



The Working in Ireland Survey (WIIS)


Professor Orla Feely, President, University College Dublin


Professor Anne Keegan, Head of HRM&ER Group, UCD



Professor John Geary, Principal Investigator, WIIS





Essential Workers’ Experience of Work During the Covid-19 Pandemic in Ireland: Evidence from WIIS


Dr Maria Belizon (ICADE - Universidad Pontificia Comillas, Madrid and Visiting Research Fellow at UCD) and Paul MacFlynn (Co-Director, Nevin Economic Research Institute)


The health of healthcare staff: A vital protection for public health


Professor Tony Holohan (Adjunct Full Professor of Public Health, School of Health and Agricultural Sciences, UCD, and former Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health)


A trade union perspective of the consequences of the pandemic


Ms Phil Ni Sheaghdha, General Secretary, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation



An employer perspective of the consequences of the pandemic


Dr Danny McCoy, CEO, Irish Business and Employers’ Confederation





Reflections on the effects of Covid-19 on workers across different sectors of the economy


Mr Owen Reidy, General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions





Round table discussion involving symposium participants and Q&A session dialogue with members of the audience


Moderator: Professor John Geary





Closing address


Professor Anthony Brabazon, Dean College of Business, UCD


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