Toronto – September 1, 2021 – Every year on Labour Day, Canada’s unions and members celebrate the contributions of workers across the country.
Last year, COVID-19 meant there were no gatherings, but this year may be different depending on where you live. Some people will be able to gather in person, others will celebrate virtually once again. The COVID-19 pandemic is still a part of our lives, though we would like to forget the challenges of the past 18 months.
While some people would have us believe that the pandemic is behind us, and that it is time to return to the way things were before COVID-19, we must resist a slide backwards. It is time to act on the lessons we have learned and fix what we have now seen was clearly broken in our nation.
The pandemic has laid-bare existing inequality here in Canada. Along with the devastation wrought on seniors and staff in long-term care homes, the initial lack of personal protective equipment, and other pandemic-related challenges, the impact on workers has been profound. Long-standing issues impacting low-income workers, many in marginalized communities, have been exposed in a way that no one can ignore any further.
A spotlight was shone on frontline workers: many working for modest wages and often without paid sick day provisions. These hard-working neighbours kept families in Canada fed, healthy, housed and supported during one of the most significant economic and social upheavals in recent memory. They did all of this while risking their own health and safety, and that of their own families. Meanwhile, CEOs making record profits clawed back pandemic wage premiums despite the ongoing risks.
As we recover from COVID-19, we must ensure that we do not return to the status quo. This is why Canada’s unions are calling for improvements as we start to move out of the pandemic. Workers must be at the heart of any pandemic recovery plan for it to be truly successful.
A strong pandemic recovery plan includes decent jobs to replace those lost over the last two years. These jobs offer a living wage, benefits like paid sick leave and pensions, and a path to unionization for workers.
A strong plan also includes strengthening our social safety net, with improvements to Employment Insurance so that it is there for everyone who needs it. And the plan must include access to universal, affordable child care that works for families. These steps will help keep us all safe and thriving when the next disaster hits, and they will help address long-standing inequality that has long plagued marginalized workers in Canada, particularly women of colour, workers with disabilities, and many others.
If we are to fully escape a sharp recession and a mammoth job-market shock with lingering effects, the government must continue to invest. Furthermore, tax fairness will ensure that wealthy individuals and big businesses pay their fair share. After all, many corporations made record profits during the pandemic and they can certainly afford to help Canada recover and keep us all safe.
In the lead up to the federal election on September 20, all workers – whether they are unionized or not – must hold political leaders accountable. The beauty of our democratic system is that we, the voters, hold the cards. We can demand change from politicians by voting in this upcoming election.
Demand that your candidates address the pandemic recovery. They should have answers on how they plan to support workers and their families, in both the short and long term. Without workers, there is no recovery. That must be our message – on Labour Day and beyond.
Paul R. Meinema