The Labour Day long weekend signals the end of the summer and beginning of a new school year. However, as its name suggests, it’s also a time to reflect on the nature of work and working conditions, paid and unpaid, and past and present struggles to ensure that everyone in our community is able to “make a living.”
Our experience over the last six months has brought new attention and consideration to what types of work are really essential. In the spring, as we honked horns and banged pots and pans to thank health-care workers for their commitment and sacrifice in combatting the coronavirus; we also realized that folks like grocery store clerks and seniors care workers were putting themselves at increased risk every day, often for less than a living wage. As retailers and service institutions closed their doors, postal and delivery workers became more critical than ever.
The pandemic has also once again shone a light on gender inequality in the workforce and in unpaid work like child care with a higher percentage of women than men losing their jobs due to the economic shutdown. Fewer women than men have returned to work thus far.
We have also seen the truly precarious nature of many jobs and workers in the current economy. Without paid sick days, and dental and pharmacare programs, far too many workers are unable to stay home when they should and are one bad break away from being unable to make next month’s rent or mortgage payment.
We can do better. We can learn from these lessons and shape our economy so that all essential workers earn a fair living, that all frontline workers have access to the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to be as safe as possible at work, and that our social safety nets are there for all workers when and how they need it.
The origins of Labour Day are in the struggle of working people for fair conditions so they can safely earn enough to enjoy a life of dignity. In 2020, this remains as relevant as ever. Whether you work for yourself or someone else, whether or not you belong to a union, or whether your work is in the home, better working conditions for everyone creates stronger, safer, fairer and more resilient communities.
Rachel Blaney is MP for North Island-Powell River.