Social Justice Saturday: It takes a pandemic to appreciate what services are truly essential

It’s Social Justice Saturday time again. There’s nothing more critical to ensuring a just and safe society than ensuring that our essential services are in place when we need them most. That would be those services that are essential to keep our society functioning safely. Those services we expect to be available to one and all. And surely those people who provide those essential services should be able to perform those essential services in a safe environment and with fair compensation. Hmm, not so much so in a pandemic.

Let’s see, what do we mean by essential services? My guess is that everyone’s list will vary somewhat. My essential may not necessarily be your essential. But we can probably agree on several services.

In “normal” times, essential services would include:

  • Keeping the power on. When the power goes out, most of us can no longer do much of anything. Keep warm or cool. Run our devices and the Internet. Watch TV. Read once it gets dark. Use medical equipment. Cook. Keep food frozen. No doubt about it, our power is essential. Kudos to the linemen who repair outages, often in unpleasant or even dangerous conditions. This never stops being essential!
  • Keeping Internet and cell service running. Goes without saying. For better or worse, that’s our world. Essential!
  • Accessible and reliable health care. Confidence that when we have a medical emergency, doctors, nurses, and other health care support workers are available in fully functioning hospitals to take care of us. That’s for sure!
  • Essential public services. Police, firefighting, garbage collection, clean water provision, etc. Services our local and regional governments provide through our taxes to keep us safe and healthy. These never stop being essential.
  • Public transit. Millions upon millions of people rely on public transit to get to work, school, errands, visiting, etc. We typically think of that essential service in terms of the equipment and infrastructure rather than the workers who keep it going. In “normal” times. Now we know better.
  • Teachers and day care workers. The well-being of our children is in their hands.
  • Rail and Airlines. We don’t even think about these services not being there. We usually just complain about scheduling delays and long waits at terminals. Boy, has that priority changed?!

In “normal” times we don’t think about grocery stores or drug stores as being essential services. They’re just there.

In “normal” times we don’t think about borders being closed and what that might mean for keeping stores and hospitals supplied with necessary items.

In “normal” times, maybe we don’t spend enough time thinking about what’s really important.

So, after 5 or more months of living in an alternate universe, what does an essential service mean to you? Who precisely is providing that essential service? And do they receive adequate compensation, including benefits, to reflect the service they provide and the risk they take on our behalf?

Who has kept your world going during lockdown and closed borders? Who’s been essential, even critically so? In my neck of the woods, I’d say it’s been:

  • Doctors, nurses, LPNs, other professional healthcare workers, especially in hospitals
  • Care workers in long term care homes
  • Day care workers (for other essential workers’ kids)
  • Long distance truck drivers (crossing the border as essential workers) to keep our food supplies and other supplies coming
  • Local truck drivers making home deliveries that allow us to stay home
  • Grocery store employees

    Image credit: Theo Moudakis, Toronto Star

  • Drug store employees
  • Cleaning staff everywhere
  • Public transit workers

In virtually all of these cases, the people involved had never considered going to work as possibly putting themselves in danger. Until now.

In almost all of these cases, the work environment was very stressful, as people undertook their work uncertain as to whether or when they would come into contact with this scary virus.

In many of these cases, the people involved went to work every day to care for people who were very sick and unable to have the comforting physical presence of their loved ones. In many instances they worked with insufficient PPE. Overwhelming emotional stress for all concerned, not to mention exhaustion.

In many of these cases, just to add to their stress, the people involved took the brunt of rude customers who vented their frustrations on employees.

Many of these people were in situations where they couldn’t afford to stay off the job, even when the stress was overwhelming, and in some cases even when they became infected (and could infect their families at home).

And in way too many of these cases, these workers – who we depended on so we could stay safely at home – are being paid minimum wage, with no benefits. No sick leave. No health insurance. Our society needs to do better.

Image credit: Theo Moudakis, Toronto Star

What about you? Has your view on what constitutes an essential service changed? Would your list of essential services in your region be different from mine? Does this experience/awakening lead you to believe there should be any changes in the way any of these services are compensated or regulated?

Let’s work hard to ensure that all our governments and communities will have learned enough from this pandemic to be better prepared for the next one, and better prepared to take good care of all our essential workers. Because not only is this one far from over, but there will be another. Mother Nature can guarantee that.

This entry was posted in History and Politics, Social justice Saturday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Social Justice Saturday: It takes a pandemic to appreciate what services are truly essential

  1. Pingback: A healthy world to come – Immanuel Verbondskind – עמנואל קאָווענאַנט קינד

  2. 🙂 Rightly so people appreciate the fab work done by doctors and nurses, but we shouldn’t forget hospital porters and cleaners………. even those delivering on-line food to our doors!

    (I’m being a little controversial here, but teachers are coming in for a lot of criticism in the UK, rightly/wrongly regarded as the only profession not ‘doing their bit’……… Unions won’t even discuss covid safety idea, reduced classrooms, kids to wear masks?, nope they’re not coming back end of and they’re losing the public’s respect! I know of a care-home worker who actually works in a home with covid, has to be all over sprayed when leaving………)

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Wow, I’m astounded at what you say about the unions lack of interest in the safety of their members. Are they in the pockets of the govt? In Canada I don’t think that’s the case. I think in the UK the teachers are pretty constrained by the dictates of the central govt. I know that bothers some bloggers I follow in the UK who are frustrated (putting it mildly) but pointing the finger at Boris rather than the teachers. Don’t know. I do know that this is bloody tough time for more people than not. 😥 Let’s hear it for the food deliverers!

      • My brother has daughters aged 12 and 14 and like so many parents he’s desperate to get them back into school but I agree the public blaming teachers isn’t helpful, hopefully teachers unions and Government can come together with a workable plan by September.

  3. iidorun says:

    My list mirrors yours although I would also highlight garbage collectors and cleaners everywhere. This is where a living minimum wage could have made a difference but so many people in the USA were upset about “burger flippers making $15 an hour”. Terrific post highlighting another aspect of our broken society. I sincerely hope society recognizes the value of these jobs and the people who work them.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Irma. I meant to have been including the garbage collectors through the “always” list in my preamble, but they deserve as much shoutout as they can get, I agree. We can be hopeful that our cleaners, care workers, and day care workers, most of whom make appallingly low wages, have gotten some real recognition of their value and unacceptable situations as a result of this pandemic. God, I hope so.

  4. AMWatson207 says:

    Our society does need to do better. If Covid-19 isn’t a wakeup call we are seriously doomed.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Exactly, AMW. Fingers crossed, but it’ll take huge buy in and suspension of self-interest. I’m not sure how many people understand that if we don’t we are doomed. I agree. Btw, love your posts!

  5. I am with you all the way. This pandemic has really revealed who’s essential and who’s not. And the essential workers often aren’t the ones earning the big bucks.

  6. I’m glad you mentioned truck drivers, Jane. Even in the best of times, they are financially abused by an unfair system of employer/contractor employment with little-to-no benefits (health, retirement, sick/vacation time) and grueling expectations for their productivity. Add in a pandemic, and I can’t imagine their woking conditions now. It’s nice that you shined a little light on them. – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Marty. I’m glad you agree. If only I could help bring them decent wages, benefits, and respect instead of just shining a light. Sadly, society inequitably rewards what’s most important to us all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.