By Jerry Dias
A lot has changed in just a week.
We’re calling relatives and neighbours to check in on them, reaching into the pantry to make groceries last just a little longer, and relying on health care workers to help us navigate the new world of isolation, screening, and care.
For me, it means negotiating for Unifor members over the phone instead of across the table and talking to news networks by Skype from my kitchen.
For too many, the COVID-19 crisis means sudden layoff and isolation.
If we can, we are staying home and staying safe, but let’s not forget the workers stocking shelves, keeping us connected by phone and internet, keeping the lights and gas on, and more importantly, providing personal care to the sick in hospitals and to the elderly in long term care.
For COVID-19 front-line workers, it means getting up and going to work every day, despite the risk and despite their worries about their own families.
Unifor represents transit operators, personal support workers and health care workers, shelter staff, telecommunications technicians, airline workers, media workers, energy workers, grocery store workers, retail workers and even mill workers who are keeping the nation stocked with toilet paper.
Many of these “COVID Heroes” are undervalued and underpaid in the best of times and are now working under increasing pressure and at great personal risk. In the midst of this crisis, these are the workers we all need to stay healthy.
They are here for us, and there are ways we can defend the COVID-19 heroes.
We can reduce personal contact, stay home as much as possible, and when we must buy essential supplies, practice social distancing. Staying six feet from others reduces risk for everyone.
When you do run out of supplies, or when you need medical care or services, please be gracious and patient. Canada’s workers are doing the best they can.
Canadians who are working from home right now, like me, can show support with personal action and with political demands to protect and support workers.
Both government and employers must do more and must act fast.
Workers are asking Ottawa to move quickly on Employment Insurance reforms and emergency measures to ensure all workers affected by the pandemic have a reliable, decent paycheque.
The federal government has expanded some E.I. benefits, but gaps remain. Any worker laid off must still wait one week to qualify for benefits. We must close the gaps and pay every worker.
Part-time and casual workers typically do not have enough hours to qualify for benefits. This must change.
Unifor has negotiated premiums for workers in major retail employers across Canada and new protective gear, sick leave benefit improvements, and full income assistance for sick leave has been implemented.
These conversations are happening in every one of the essential service sectors. Transit services are listening to workers and enforcing loading on the back of the bus. Telecom technicians are screening customers before entering homes, and are wearing protective gear.
In health care we are monitoring closely to ensure workers stay safe on the job. Now is the time to listen to professionals, and to heed the calls of workers and our unions.
I believe that people in Canada are ready to band together to fight this pandemic. That means protecting the health care, retail, transit, telecommunications, transportation, forestry, crown, and energy workers who are keeping our infrastructure running.
When we reach the other side of this crisis, we must never forget the lengths they went to keep us safe, fed, and connected.
The next time you hear about cuts to your local hospital, or a campaign against poverty wages, that will be your turn to give back and defend these COVID Heroes.
Let’s do more than say thanks. Let’s raise the standards.