Posted on: May 19, 2020 at 5:23 pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the most far-reaching and catastrophic global health crisis of the twenty-first century, and has exposed many of the shortcomings of our society. It has revealed to us that some of the most undervalued people among us- such as grocery store workers, delivery drivers, and those who work in long term care homes- are essential to keeping our society moving.

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Despite this, they are often the most under-paid workers in our communities. Many of these people are risking their health and their lives on a daily basis, and are still barely able to make rent or put food on their families’ tables.

While millions of people around the world are showing their support for these individuals by clapping, putting up signs, and sending messages of thanks, the government of Canada has decided to put their thanks into action.

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Canada to Increase Pay for Essential Workers

On May 7, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan to increase the pay for essential workers who are making minimum wage. The federal government is contributing three billion dollars to the plan, with another one billion coming from the provinces [1].

“If you’re risking your health to keep this country moving and you’re making minimum wage, you deserve a raise,” the PM said in a daily briefing [2].

Provinces in Canada have the constitutional responsibility for health care, and so will be responsible for determining who exactly gets paid, and how much. The federal government has stated that they have confidence that the provinces will determine exactly how best to help Canadians at this time [1].

Under the terms of the agreement, the wages will be raised for essential workers who are making less than $1800 dollars per month.

“I think one of the things that we’re seeing through this pandemic is that there are people who are tremendously economically vulnerable, and vulnerable in other ways in our society, who are extremely important to the functioning of our society,” Trudeau said [3].

Read: Cannabis shows promise blocking coronavirus infection, claims Canadian researcher

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The COVID-19 Situation in Canada

One of the primary recipients of this wage increase will be individuals working in long term care facilities. As of May 19, Canada has had 78 499 cases of the virus, and nearly six thousand deaths [4].

Approximately eighty percent of the COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been residents in long-term care homes. One of the main reasons for this is because there is a lack of staff in the healthcare system, particularly in Quebec, the country’s hardest-hit province.

Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare, one of Canada’s largest healthcare unions, explained that frontline essential workers are exhausted and terrified as they watch their colleagues fall ill and die.

“The essential service workers that right now help save our lives and care for our loved ones are a lot of the minimum wage earners, the lowest paid in society. They have precarious work and our lives are depending on them right now,” she said [3].

As many of the workers in long-term care facilities have become ill, or have chosen not to go into work, the Canadian government deployed more than one thousand Canadian Armed Forces personnel to support long-term care homes in both Ontario and Quebec [1].

The prime minister has acknowledged that having soldiers in the facilities is not an ideal solution, and he is working with the provinces to find a better, longer-term approach to solving the problem.

“We know, however, that once we get through this, in the months and years to come, we’re also going to have to have reflections about how we manage and how we maintain our long-term care facilities, how we support essential workers who are very low paid, how we move forward as a society to make sure that our vulnerable are properly taken care of and properly rewarded for the important work they do,” he said [3].

Read: Smart Face Mask That Lights Up When It Detects Coronavirus Now In Development

Time is of the Essence

While all of the opposing political parties in the country support this new plan, critics have voiced their disappointment for how long it took the Trudeau administration to act, including NDP MP Peter Julian.

“Frontline workers have been through a tremendous amount, you can imagine the pressures that are on them each and every day as they literally put their lives on the line,” he said. “They shouldn’t be worried about putting food on the table.” [1]

He also argued that sending the money through the provinces will slow down the process, making it take even longer for the workers who need the cash to receive their increased pay, saying that “passing the buck” to the provinces will only produce further delays, and he is not convinced that frontline workers will be receiving the pay that they deserve [1].

Stewart said that while this news is good to hear, these workers need to see this money soon, and are concerned about bureaucracy getting in the way.

“Frontline essential workers now are exhausted, they’re terrified, they’ve got colleagues in every sector dying. It’s nice to hear but they are exhausted from that and they want to see those words turned into action now,” she said [3].

Lasting Change for the Future

The opposing political parties are now calling on the Liberal government to ensure that this support continues even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

“What this has done has exposed problems that were already widespread in the system, particularly when it comes to seniors’ care. There weren’t adequate resources,” said Julian [1].

Stewart agrees:

“This didn’t just happen nine weeks ago, these people have been underpaid . . . and the pandemic just shot a big spotlight on the problem,” [3].

Keep Reading: Black light experiment shows how quickly a virus like Covid-19 can spread at a restaurant

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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