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LETTER: COVID-19 response underlines the value of a vibrant public sector

I write in response to the Brian Jones column, “Pandemic is an extended holiday for public-sector workers,” (The Telegram May 20). Let me get Jones straight — his solution to millions in the private sector losing their jobs is to advocate that millions of public sector workers also lose their jobs?

I am not sure what kind of dystopian world Jones inhabits. What next? Perhaps his next column will advocate that more people contract the virus, so each of us can better understand how truly awful the disease is.

The civilized response to a pandemic is to act collectively and do our utmost to help those affected. Thankfully, tens of thousands of medical staff, public-sector workers all, have been on the front-line 24/7 ensuring anyone who contracts COVID-19 are given the best medical attention.

Thankfully, there are public-service workers in long-term care who are ensuring the sick and elderly are kept safe and healthy, often without sufficient personal protective equipment. And still more are risking their own health and safety to carry out the essential work that continues pandemic or not.

In addition, there are of thousands of public-service workers making sure those economically impacted, are getting the subsidies and benefits they or their business needs to help them get through this public health crisis.

And let’s not forget, they have been spending their wages in our local economy and paying their taxes, which in fact helps to stabilize the economy. No exotic vacations or hoarding of dollars in offshore accounts or tax havens for these workers.

I can agree when Jones highlighted the “paltry $2,000 per month payment.” Inadequate income supports have often been an issue for the union movement. We have long been supporters of a living wage and see it as key to rebuilding our economy.

How about a column highlighting how public investment and improved public services will be key priorities to creating an economy that works for all?

Think childcare. The fact is our economic recovery will be in jeopardy if parents and guardians of young children do not have access to the childcare services they need to return to work.

The clear evidence tells us that the public management of childcare, including public/non-profit, like we see in Québec, is a fair and effective way to deliver services. It also serves to boost the economy, and the participation of women in the labour market.

Economic recovery needs to be focused on getting workers back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs. COVID-19 has persuaded most people that our minimum wage needs to substantially increase, and that many of our low-paying jobs are essential to the functioning of our society.

Many agree with our position that economic recovery will be reliant on immediate and strong public investment in infrastructure and expanded public services. Of course the right-wing ideologues will parrot Stephen Harper’s call for “mild austerity.”

Let’s be clear — the union movement refuses to return to the previous, outdated, economic mindset of austerity, spending cuts, and reduced public and social services that result in growing inequality, anemic job creation, precarious work and deeper poverty.

Mr. Jones, truth be told, the public service has served us extremely well throughout this pandemic. If we have learned anything from the past several months, it is the importance of a vibrant public sector and quality public services.

Our Federation of Labour, which proudly represents these workers who live and contribute in every single community in this province honours and thanks public sector workers. We could not have “weathered this storm” without them and the services they provide.

A strong public sector will make sure our province can ride the waves of this and future pandemics; and look after the well-being of all of us — modern, current, tried and true reasons for dismissing your offensive editorial.

Mary Shortall
President, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

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