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Plagued by workers demanding more? Here’s what you can do

IbyIMD+ Published 28 April 2023 in Audio articles • 7 min read • Audio availableAudio available

The sheer scale of the carnage from the bubonic plague gave the surviving workforce in the Middle Ages undreamt of bargaining power. While far less severe, the effects of COVID-19 combined with a dramatically falling birth-rate are having a similar effect. Business leaders need to adjust to the new reality.  

In his monumental 1,344-page book The World: A Family History, the British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore records the mortality rates from the bubonic plague in the 14th century. In England, half the population died. In Venice, 75% perished. In parts of Egypt, the figure reached 98%. 

The survivors were in demand. “The wool-processing workshops of Italy and Flanders, England, and France were short of workers,” Sebag Montefiore writes. Wages went up. “Workers formed guilds. The new confidence felt by ordinary people empowered them to launch a spate of peasant revolts.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic through which we have lived – and are still living – has brought its own destruction. By the beginning of 2023, 6.8 million people worldwide had died of the virus, according to the World Health Organization. That is an immeasurable tragedy for the bereaved. But it bears no comparison with the plague’s depredations. COVID-19 deaths represent less than one in a thousand of the…

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