Around the world each night, at the time of shift changes at local hospitals, residents are taking to their balconies and front porches to bang pots and pans or simply clap hands as a sign of thanks to all the healthcare workers who have survived another shift on the COVID-19 frontlines.
Personal support workers, healthcare aides, nurses, doctors and administrators (to name only one group of workers at this time) have rushed into this crisis in record numbers to help stem the spread of this extremely efficient transmission virus (Dr. Anthony Fauci stated last night on AC360 with Anderson Cooper, that it is one of the most efficient viruses he has ever scene — meaning that it spread is fast and easy — which makes it more dangerous). These women and men are risking their own health and well-being so that their patients’ needs are being taken care of during this crisis. As the husband of a Professor in the Personal Support Worker program at Conestoga College, I know full well the difficult jobs these front-line workers must endure in the best of times — so it’s hard for me to fully comprehend how much more difficult it is for these wonderful, caring PSWs in times like these.
Beyond the important work of our frontline healthcare workers, we need to recognize those who are also risking their own health and safety to ensure that our grocery stores are stocked, those in need of public transit get to their destinations on time, and the many customer service workers who have now turned their dining room tables into their “work-from-home” desks. All of these important people go to work each day to keep our limited economies running — they are deemed essential but they are much more than that, they are truly critical workers.
Yesterday I went on a grocery run in search of the much sought after toilet-paper (TP) and baking supplies (I was also on the lookout for flour to make Irish Soda bread with raisins. My local Sobey’s was almost as empty as the totally empty TP and flour shelves (I still don’t get the rush on TP and flour) so off I drove to our local Walmart to pick up the last two remaining packages of flour — no TP there as well.
In both cases I physically distanced myself from other shoppers and store personnel in order to protect all of us. I thanked each of the grocery store workers for being there, even if they couldn’t help me find TP — we laughed wondering what new crisis this could create as people started using other paper products.
As I drove home from my semi-successful venture I thought of these two groups: PSWs and grocery store clerks. Two critical groups of workers who are there, supporting our food and personal needs and taking care of our loved ones. Two groups that make among the lowest wages and salaries — minimum wage in most cases. While I was happy with the announcement by Loblaws and Sobeys to give a bonus to workers and increase their hourly pay by $2.00 — they still make less than a living wage. That’s a far-cry lower than Loblaws’ CEO Galen G. Weston who in 2018 had a salary of $1.18 million and a total compensation package of just under $8 million.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in annual CEO compensation report ‘Fail Safe’ published earlier this year, the average pay of the top 100 highest-paid CEOs in Canada was $11.8 million in 2018 which works out to an “ratio of average CEO pay to average worker compensation” in 2018 of 227:1 — for every dollar that the average worker makes, a CEO makes $227 (by the way, the average individual income in Canada in 2018 was $52,061).
In Ontario, the current minimum wage (for non-restaurant/bar employees) is $14.00. That is certainly much lower than the hourly rate of a CEO and it is lower than the calculated “living wage” required to make ends meet in the province. Just as an example, according to the Ontario Living Wage Network, the following are the calculated hourly living wages for these regions:
Hamilton — $16.45
Toronto — $22.08
Waterloo Region — $16.35
So here’s my recommendation — before the COVID-19 crisis fades away, we should petition our healthcare organizations and grocery stores to immediately commit to providing their workers with a minimum living wage that is adjusted to local economic conditions. This is the perfect time to have organizations commit to this type of policy change and wage increase — they already recognized this issue by preemptively increasing grocery store wages by $2.00 per hour. So let’s encourage them to make it permanent.