The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we see a lot of jobs once considered “safe” in Canada. Working in groceries and retail can now pose risks to workers’ health and safety. Major grocery chains, faced with the prospect of major staffing shortages, started offering workers so-called “hazard pay” in order to entice employees to keep stores running.

The question of “hazard pay” has come up in the world of front-line work public sector work too – in health care, transportation and other sectors represented by CUPE.

CUPE’s position is clear: work during a pandemic should not be any more hazardous than work during any other time, and our priority is ensuring our members are safe at work. Employers have the responsibility – at all times, and in every sector – to provide safe working conditions, appropriate protective equipment and proper training for workers.

“We won’t put a price on the safety of our members,” said CUPE National President Mark Hancock. “There is no substitute for employers providing a safe workplace.”

“Even during a pandemic, employers have a responsibility to provide the protective equipment and safe conditions required for our members to get the job done,” said CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury.

There is no question that working during a pandemic is an added level of stress, and comes with added expenses. Employers can relieve some of the stress workers are facing by offering or covering the costs of meals, laundry and cleaning services, child care and elder care, and alternate accommodations if needed so workers can protect their families.

This crisis has highlighted the vital importance of front-line workers in protecting and caring for all of us. While CUPE continues to fight for better protection and health and safety measures for our members, when this pandemic is over, we will be reminding governments and employers at the bargaining table to recognize the value of front-line work and compensate our members accordingly.