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Labour views: We need a system that promotes the value of our public sector workers

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – It wasn’t long after mid-March in 2020 that we heard the praise for our front-line heroes, and rightfully so.

Many of those working on the front line kept coming to work, in the public interest. From the first responders and health care workers, to grocery store employees and truckers, we saw true dedication.

Every day we watched the Premier and Dr. Strang lay it on the line in a cool, calm and collected way in their address to the province.

We are fortunate that so many people paid heed and did what was expected. Not many people really give much thought to all those public sector workers, working behind the scenes as the political folks took center stage.

People don’t often think about the cogs in the wheel as long as it is turning. Never much thought to the countless people behind the scenes in hospitals, nursing homes, long term care facilities – those providing home support. Every day they quietly worked along even though by doing so they put themselves in danger of getting Covid-19. We often think about the nurses, doctors and specialists,  but not a lot about the cleaners, cooks, food service workers, the people keeping the buildings working, the paperwork flowing and all those behind the scenes keeping the wheels moving.

The workers who rolled out the COVID funding did it very quickly, in record time. Like all of you, I picked up my mail, was able to get the items I needed at the store and picked up my meds as needed.

Signs went up in communities thanking all those workers on the front line.

Sadly, those words “Front Line Heroes” for the most part remain nothing but words. Many are working in situations where there just isn’t enough staff. Most of them are underpaid, work in precarious work situations and many do not have benefits. Many of them care deeply for the people they look after and are frustrated that many seniors don’t get the care they need.

Many long-term care workers raised those concerns long before the pandemic. Some were given so-called pandemic pay, others were not. Many make low wages, not nearly enough to keep them out of poverty. If normal is returning back to that, then I say “no thanks”. The pandemic has shown us many things that were wrong in a system built on low wages and no benefits for many workers. A system where the rich were rewarded for the work of those who make the wheels turn. We need a system that promotes the value of our public sector workers.

We must collectively stand up and say enough is enough. Workers spending their pay cheques in the local economy is what drives the economy. We saw that when thousands of workers started to buy local. They were the ones who kept things moving along.

The pandemic has taught us to rethink our values and principles as a society. Returning to a new normal should mean all workers are respected for the job they do. As we come out of this,  I for one will work to ensure that we in fact do have your back as we build back. Now let’s see the politicians say that and turn their words into real actions.

Danny Cavanagh is president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour

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