By Jerry Dias
At the beginning of the pandemic, Unifor made two broad demands of government.
The first was to protect public health and ensure all workers had access to sick leave and immediate income assistance. The second was to build an economic stimulus package big and bold enough to speed Canada’s economic recovery and build the Canada so many of us believe is possible.
With the new year starting, I refuse to go back to the economy we left behind – of economic injustice, inequality, precarious work and climate change. This is about working together to build the economy we all deserve.
It won’t be easy, but a better world is possible if we put in the work now to make it happen.
COVID-19 proved just how important personal care work in long-term care homes and childcare centres is to building a strong and resilient economy. Retail workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers were all finally seen and respected for the vital workers they are.
We learned not only how much they struggled because of the pandemic, but how much they had struggled before it as well. The result was that amid a year full of struggle and hard times, we also saw inspiring solidarity and bold ideas.
Such solidarity and bold ideas must guide us now.
This new year brings a chance to overhaul the public programs that failed us and to build the ones we need. We still don’t know when the once-in-a-century economic crisis brought on by the pandemic will end or how volatile that recovery might be, but we do know that focused government action is vital to that recovery.
Unifor’s build back better plan, released in June, sets out broad themes for getting this done. Small tweaks are not enough. As governments at all levels and political stripes write their 2021 budgets, we must all ensure that supports for workers and economic stimulus are front and centre.
A $15 minimum wage and permanent reforms to Employment Insurance would boost the income security and improve the lives of millions of Canadians, along with healthy working conditions through stronger employment standards and labour law.
Healthcare workers in hospitals and long-term care centres have been lauded as heroes, but we continue to see outbreaks at the homes where they work. Two Unifor members died of COVID-19, while caring for others, along with many more across the county. Any recovery must put care before profits.
The tourism and travel industries have been devastated by the pandemic and accompanying travel restrictions. They may not recover without immediate assistance.
Canada needs a historic investment in green jobs and decarbonization that will ensure the stability and quality of work in the energy sector while moving Canada towards its climate targets.
Governments need to build the public programs and infrastructure that has been so long promised. Programs such as childcare, pharmacare, made-in-Canada public transit, affordable housing and clean drinking water are a bare minimum here.
We have seen our government recommit to Canadian auto manufacturing. As we move into 2021, this commitment must be extended to aerospace, transportation and heavy equipment, food production, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, media, shipbuilding and forestry.
Government has continuously promised that support for the hardest hit sectors is coming soon. That support cannot come soon enough, and when it arrives the programs must lay out strong, enforceable conditions that ensure benefits flow to workers and the sustainment of Canadian jobs.
Clearly, we are not short on solutions. The question is whether the political will exists to get this done. Deficit hawks will say our plan is impossible, too expensive and unsustainable.
Think about it. Before the pandemic, Canada already had too many people running on empty, living paycheque to paycheque trying to make ends meet. It was unsustainable then. It’s unconscionable now.
We already know government spending during and after crisis is the fastest way to rebuild. Doing that with a focus on job creation and improvements to job quality will mean the country rebuilds in a more equitable and sustainable way. Right from the first month of the pandemic, Unifor has been advocating for strong public health measures and stronger income supports.
We were first out of the gate shaping the vision of what is possible to achieve coming out of this crisis. As we move through 2021 there will be plenty of opportunities to participate – in fact, there already are. Our demands for emergency drug coverage and petition for a $15 minimum wage are active and waiting to be signed and shared.
Members from across the country and in every industry are meeting with government officials, writing letters and marching in protest when bad decisions are made and our jobs or working conditions are undermined.
As the vaccines roll out and the end of the pandemic comes into view, there is one thing that is certain: Unifor will be advocating for our members and a strong economic recovery every step of the way. We will not take our foot off the gas.