Politics Blog: Addressing racism must be at centre of COVID-19 recovery

Toronto – November 7, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted working people of colour, and addressing the institutional racism that has led to this outcome must be at the centre of any just COVID-19 recovery.  

In March, hundreds of companies in Canada shuttered and thousands of people lost their jobs, but many also worked through the health crisis serving on the front lines as essential workers. In fact, this moment has underscored how critical feminized and racialized labour is to public health – as women, particularly women of colour and new immigrants, have led the response to the pandemic. Consequently, COVID-19 has highlighted the various injustices in our society, and the ways in which crises can disproportionately affect black, Indigenous, and racialized communities in Canada.

As the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) phased out, the federal government introduced three new programs aimed at addressing different situations that Canadians might find themselves in, as they juggle their work and care duties throughout the pandemic. But these programs need to remain a permanent fixture in our economy, and should be further expanded to include those who have been left out by the government’s response to COVID-19.

Indeed, this is a chance for us to reflect on how COVID-19 has created opportunities for government to provide a truly holistic safety net for communities across the country, and who is accounted for when entitlement programs are designed and implemented.

UFCW Canada recently joined a town hall that was convened by the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and led by Canada’s Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat. The goal of the town hall was to solicit recommendations from the labour movement on creating a COVID-19 recovery plan that addresses diverse community needs. Some of the proposals made by unions participating in the event included a universal childcare and early learning system, which is supported by the NDP. The town hall was also an opportunity for the labour movement to voice our concerns over the challenges facing workers – from how workers’ overall health has been affected by the pandemic, to what the virus and the government’s response have meant for Black and racialized communities, who are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19.  

This feedback highlighted the fact that a post-pandemic recovery needs to pay acute attention to addressing social inequities in our country. The hope is that the federal government will consider the important interventions that the labour movement has made on behalf of workers in Canada. Beyond these discussions and consultations, we hope to see our recommendations implemented in Canada’s post-COVID-19 recovery, with efforts to address institutional racism at the core of this response.