Courage of frontline workers should spark national debate

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Doctor with a stethoscope in the hands and hospital background
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ONE welcome by-product of the very unwelcome Covid-19 crisis has been the widespread recognition and public support for workers providing essential services.

That’s according to Limerick Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan who said that this was particularly the case for Health Service workers who put their lives on the line in the battle against the Coronavirus.

“Their courage and dedication has not just been inspiring, it has also sparked a conversation about the central role they play in the health of our nation, and the future direction of our entire health service.

“There is now a renewed focus on the need to build a service based on access for all, rather than the current two-tier model which is based on ability to pay,” he said.

He also takes the view that there needs to be a national conversation about what constitutes the best model of eldercare – one based on public care within our communities or the current model based around private for-profit nursing homes.

“The fact that these nursing homes refuse to recognise trade union rights or negotiate a sectoral employment order to establish a floor of decency for the sector surely must be challenged.

”Beyond health care there are several other sectors where workers are keeping our economy afloat. These include essential workers in transport, manufacturing, cleaning, security, retail and local government.

“The refuse collection sector often goes overlooked, but it has remained active and essential throughout this pandemic. Sinn Féin has long argued for this service to be brought back under the control of local authorities. The current privatised model has been an unmitigated disaster in terms of cost, workers’ rights and the environment.

Deputy Quinlivan, who is Sinn Féin spokesman on Workers Rights, went onto say that we cannot allow the value of these workers to be forgotten after the crisis passes. Talk of wanting “a return to normal” misses the point that “normal” hasn’t worked for so many of these workers.

“Too many suffer from low pay, poor working conditions and a fundamental lack of rights in the workplace.

“We need a new deal for these workers which must start with the right to collectively bargain through their trade unions. This could pave the way for a series of sectoral agreements to give a transformational dividend to these workers.

“We also need to see a radical improvement in the social wage to provide families with a range of public services that are already the norm across much of Western Europe. We need to see the roll out of a national childcare scheme funded directly by the State, to give workers and their families the support they need.

“In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, we have the opportunity to fundamentally change the direction of not just our economy, but also our society,” he concluded.