July Education Month
Throughout lockdown, transportation workers have been the backbone of any city: drivers, pilots, as well as maintenance, station, and airport staff, among others, have continued tremendous work to maintain access to essential travel for those who needed it. Despite the daily sacrifices these workers made, their efforts were largely unrecognised—many not even receiving PPE, such as face masks, at the outset. With reduced services and limited capacity on vehicles, some passengers have also had difficulty social distancing and respecting their driver's space (Canada's National Observer). Public transportation is vital not only for essential travel, but also for helping the country recover its economy (CBC). With masks now becoming mandatory and with more of the province open, it is crucial that riders respect public health guidelines, recommendations, and social distancing to ensure that they're riding respectfully to protect both themselves as well as the drivers and staff working within our transit networks.
Postal Service & Delivery Workers
For the past months, postal service workers have been delivering parcels at record levels, but are far from clearing the backlog of packages in their facilities. Despite working on weekends and running facilities 24/7, it has still been difficult to conquer the extreme delivery demands. In May, Canada Post hit an all-time record of 2.1 million parcels delivered in one day, 3x the expected amount at that time of year (Toronto Star). With almost no time to prepare for rising demands, services must operate at reduced capacities to accommodate social distancing in processing plants. On top of the volume of parcels, safe and secure deliveries pose another challenge. A rise in bulkier and heavier orders (furniture/outdoor equipment) creates more safety hazards as larger items typically require multiple people to handle. In 2018, it was reported that postal services experienced 5x the injury rate of any other federal sector (Toronto Star)—a rate that is now likely heightened with the added burdens from the pandemic.
As public spaces, including washrooms, have been restricted, it’s been difficult for truck drivers, who often deliver essentials such as PPE and food, to maintain good hygiene and fulfill their basic needs. Similarly, couriers handling everything from takeout to groceries, have risked their safety to ensure that others can remain at home. In spite of these efforts, many have not been provided with adequate PPE (CBC) even though they have high exposure to the virus while traveling between various people and places.
Community Service & Social Workers
Social workers support the most marginalized populations of our society, such as those struggling with mental health concerns, poverty, homelessness, and violence. They play a unique role in circulating reliable COVID-19-related information and help clients cope with breakdown, crisis, grief, and other concerns arising from the pandemic. Many have adapted to virtual care methods, providing counseling over secure telephone and online calls. Despite this, some social workers are ineligible for pandemic pay—a system of temporary financial support for COVID-19 frontline workers (OASW). Along with the anxiety and uncertainty experienced in these times, financial stressors add to the burden that social workers carry, making them even more susceptible to burnout and compassion fatigue (NASW).
“In times like these, community matters…the need for support, close to home, has never been so vital” (United Way CEO). The 14,000 not-for-profit organizations in Toronto employ 200,000+ service workers who provide critical services for our communities. With the toll of the pandemic falling hardest on the vulnerable, these heroes have worked even harder to meet emergency needs— delivering food hampers to families, finding shelter for those experiencing homelessness, and much more. Community service workers keep essential services and programs going to ensure that everyone in the community is accounted for in these trying times (City of Toronto).
Custodial & Sanitation Workers
Custodial workers include janitors and caretakers who primarily maintain the cleanliness of indoor spaces, while sanitation workers are responsible for the proper disposal of waste in communities, businesses, and organizations. These workers ensure that all our garbage is properly disposed of and that public spaces are regularly cleaned. Despite the essential role these heroes play in our lives, they are invisible to many and are among the lowest-paid in the country (CBC).
During the pandemic, these workers have been directly linked to ensuring that our healthcare and essential facilities are safe. With increasing susceptibility to infection and rising COVID19 cases, custodial and sanitation workers have had to use harsher chemicals—often without being informed of its associated health risks—to disinfect and keep spaces safe (CBC). Sanitation workers face additional risks handling garbage disposal: they make direct contact with hundreds of potentially virus-contaminated garbage bags on a daily basis, some of which are not securely tied (Global News).
Next time you take out your garbage or enter a public space, please do your part and be considerate not only of these everyday heroes, but their families too.
Food & Agriculture Workers
Think back to the last meal you had. Do you know how it got there? Agri-food workers are crucial in ensuring that a sustainable food supply chain is maintained. In Canada, the food and agriculture industry has a labour shortage of approximately 50,000 jobs (Global News), a number that tends to increase as these jobs are unpopular among most Canadians (CTV News). Canadian farms employ many temporary migrant workers, but do not always provide safe and socially distant living conditions (CTV News). Additionally, these workers are not always informed of virus outbreaks on site. Due to concerns around their legal status in Canada, many are hesitant to receive testing, fearing that they will lose their job and be deported if they test positive for COVID-19 (CBC News). As part of Ontario's three-point reopening plan, migrant workers who test positive, but are asymptomatic, are permitted to continue working—a regulation that does not apply to any other work sector in the country (Toronto Star).
During the pandemic, there has been a 55% increase in the amount of concern regarding the country’s food safety (iPolitics). Despite the everyday worries Canadians have, it is also crucial to acknowledge the safety and well-being of those who work tirelessly to ensure that our grocery stores are stocked and that we have food on the table. Next time you have a meal, think of how it got there.
Retail & Manufacturing Workers
Retail is the largest employment sector in Canada and a major contributor to our economy. During the pandemic, essential stores have remained open, enabling Canadians to shop for necessities. This would have been impossible without the dedication, adaptability, and guidance of retail workers. Work conditions and hours for retail workers have been highly precarious, with some working over-time, while others working part-time struggle to earn sufficient income during this time of crisis. The daily mental impacts on retail workers are notably concerning: many must regularly deal with frustrated, confused, and impatient customers on top of the ongoing uncertainty and the constant fear of infection—a fear that can take an immense mental toll.
Sanitizer, ventilators, and PPE such as face shields, masks, and gloves are crucial supplies needed in the fight against COVID-19. Many manufacturers have been quick to repurpose their factories to help sustain enough PPE for everyone across the country as we face major shortages. For example, we go through an average of 9 million surgical masks a week and rely heavily on this industry (Global News, March 2020). Despite this, 31,000 manufacturing workers have lost their jobs in Ontario alone (CBC, April 2020).
Teachers & Childcare Workers
During the COVID-19 crisis, teachers have gone to great lengths to ensure their students are able to continue their education, with many having to overcome the technological learning curve of remote teaching. While adapting to virtual teaching, educators have been as innovative and attentive to the needs of their students as possible. As students have varying lives at home, teachers must be especially accommodating and considerate of those who face disadvantages, such as language barriers, differences in access to technology, and difficult family circumstances. The role of teachers doesn't stop at educating—they need to identify the emotional needs of students as well, on top of coping with their own.
The impact of childcare workers has lifelong benefits on the children they care for and educate. As they support the childcare needs of frontline workers, they've been integral in ensuring workers can sustain the fight against the virus. In addition to the work they already do, these workers have taken on extra responsibility to ensure the safety of all the families they could potentially affect. With children from different households gathered together, the potential for transmission is high. Childcare workers are instrumental in supporting the mental health of children too, which is especially crucial in a time of rapid change.
Public Health Workers
Beyond the wards of hospitals and traditional healthcare facilities, public health workers have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic. They include public health nurses and physicians, health inspectors and educators, epidemiologists, statisticians, and laboratory technicians, among others. From processing COVID-19 tests to producing statistical models that track the virus’ progression through our country, these heroes work behind the scenes to keep us healthy.
Research consistently shows that a population health approach to health and disease is far more effective than the prevalent medicalized approach. Yet, public health agencies are regularly facing budget cuts. Nonetheless, public health workers persevere to tackle COVID-19 by considering the impact on the whole population—not just those with disease—in terms of healthy lifestyles, environments, and social policies. These heroes consider the long-term effects of continuing our current restrictive measures and value equity to ensure no one gets left behind (Goel, 2020).