In Our Words: Open the goodie bag for essential workers

Let’s talk about who’s essential, who isn’t and how we should respond to that.

When the Manitoba government’s official list of essential employees was listed last month, I was surprised at just how long the list was. The Public Health Act, which names which jobs are essential, is 17 pages long. There are 74 total terms listed in the act, deeming almost every job essential.

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COVID-19 has shown us the list of people society deems essential for everything to stay normal is long. It also includes a lot of people who aren’t paid very well or who don’t often get enough credit for their work.

Teachers may not be standing in front of classes right now, but they are still working, sending assignments out to students and resources to parents, going to work in empty classrooms. They’re still working and they’re not paid enough.

Retail workers are still working, stocking shelves with groceries and vital everyday items. They’re still working and they’re not paid enough.

First responders are still working, checking on people with medical issues, taking care of emergencies, putting out fires, rushing people to hospital, finding and arresting criminals. They’re still working and they’re not paid enough.

Hotel and rental staff, snow shovellers, telecommunications workers, truckers, mechanics, miners, farmers, fishers, construction workers, plumbers, scientists, journalists, seniors care workers, social workers, delivery people - all deemed essential. They’re still working and they’re not paid enough.

Lastly, we come to health care professionals. We can all talk a good game about supporting them right now. I’m sure nurses, doctors, technicians… hell, every hospital employee anywhere is feeling that love in some way.

The trouble is, that talk is just talk if we continue to vote for people who cut back on health care, cut back on needed supplies, on maintenance and facility management, on recruitment incentives.

Can we really say we support our health care workers if we’re also fine with our leaders giving them the shaft?

Can we really call people “essential” and treat them below the standard we should?

COVID-19 should come as a wake-up call, not only for public health, but that the people who keep our lives going don’t get the respect or pay that they should.

Don’t forget that when things go back to normal.

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