As of March 2nd, more than 89,000 people in nearly 60 countries have reported cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) around the world. More than 3,000 people have died as a result. By all accounts, this is serious, and we should all take care of ourselves – and others.
During these times, those who cannot go to work, or are forced to stay at home, are in real danger of losing wages, putting their lives and those of their families in peril. Without money, they are defenceless – against the virus and against poverty.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is “calling for urgent measures to ensure that workers who show symptoms can take sick leave without fear of losing their jobs or their incomes and receive free health care. With the WHO warning of ‘very high risk of global spread and impact’ of the disease, workplaces are frontlines in combatting its proliferation.”
These basic rights can ensure that all workers are given some form of wage protection, so they carry on with their lives. They did not choose to be infected or come under the suspicion of having done so. We must continue to defend those rights, as we do those of our members.
Many of our members are in direct contact with the public and, as such, are at risk of contracting diseases which may be contagious. We represent 2,700 members at Spectrum Health Care across Ontario who work directly with patients. We also represent close to 5,000 Airport Screening Officers in British Columbia and all three Toronto airports. Across North America, the IAM represents more than 184,00 members in aerospace. All of them face great risk if COVID-19 or another disease spreads rapidly.
We owe it to them, and all front-line workers to keep them safe from disease and other hazards. To that end, we should speak with our elected representatives to put health and safety for workers as their first priority.
We should also be careful not to let employers use COVID-19 to cover up for their own mismanagement. COVID-19 is being used to justify cutbacks and bankruptcy claims even where there Is no direct or indirect relationship to the virus. Unethical employers are simply using this as an excuse to mask their ineptitude.
IAM Grand Lodge has issued a Coronavirus Guidance for IAM Members which includes some important things to remember. Please take the time to read the information. It helps you and it helps you family and co-workers.
Sometimes, bad times brings out the worst in us. We should be especially careful in not stereotyping people from certain communities who are most affected by the virus. Canadians of Chinese, South Korean, and now, Iranian, descent are being targeted simply because of their ethnocultural origins.
Restaurants and other businesses are losing customers simply because the owners are from a particular community – not because they visited countries where the virus has a foothold.
As IAM members, as trade unionists, and as world citizens, we must not fall into the trap of pigeonholing people based on how they look. We oppose racism, sexism, elitism, homophobia, ageism and all other discriminatory practices. We would do well to remember this when we walk the streets of our cities and towns.
It’s the right thing to do. It’s the Machinists thing to do.