"This International Human Rights Day, the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is calling on governments to ensure policies brought in because of the global pandemic do not violate human rights" — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (10 Dec. 2020) — December 10 is the anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the Declaration). The Declaration, officially proclaimed on December 10, 1948, remains one of the UN’s major achievements, and an important instrument and symbol in the fight for justice and equality worldwide.
The Declaration of Human Rights and the global pandemic
The Declaration of Human Rights is a foundational document used to protect our most fundamental rights. In many parts of the world, unfortunately, these rights are widely ignored. This happens in violation of the legal obligations the Declaration places on all states to uphold basic human rights.
The global pandemic has stressed institutions and placed vulnerable people at risk like no other crisis in generations. How societies approach the coming recovery and address the ongoing impacts of the pandemic will be critical in charting a just way forward. Unfortunately, governments are already signaling that the pandemic will be used to impose an agenda which will bring even greater hardship on many people who have already borne the brunt of the impacts of the pandemic.
The Austerity Agenda compound and expand economic injustice
Those governments focused on implementing an austerity agenda must be opposed because austerity only exacerbates the problems of inequity and income inequality in our society.
This is why NUPGE is calling on governments to adhere to their international and domestic obligations and not use the pandemic to implement policies which lead to greater violations of human rights. The pandemic has already done disproportionately greater harm to the poor and the vulnerable. Women and racialized communities have been left in a more precarious position because of the pandemic.
Rather than punish these elements of our society even further by stripping them of the basic programs and supports they need to support themselves and their families, governments should be expanding these programs.
Labour rights are human rights
Austerity is a failed agenda but as it makes a comeback because of the pandemic, one of the primary forms it takes are attacks on labour. It is important to let governments know that labour rights are human rights and attacking these rights risks putting governments in violation of domestic and international law supporting labour rights.
These hard-won rights include freedom of association, the right to collectively bargain and to form unions. In Canada, there have already been charter challenges brought against governments which violate these rights. The Supreme Court of Canada has consistently upheld labour rights within the charter and even expanded the interpretation recently, clearly including the right to strike under these provisions.
Still, divisive governments are pushing legislation which does not respect collective agreements or collective bargaining. Unions are being forced to take their governments to court to fight back, but these are expensive challenges which take years to conclude. In the interim, fighting public sector unions is being used to divide our societies and pit workers against each other. These regressive governments must not be allowed to use the pandemic as an excuse to push an anti-worker agenda which
Health Care is a human right, protect health care workers
Throughout the pandemic, the workers who are at most risk are frontline health care workers. These workers are also the reason that so many infected patients survive the pandemic. Employers and governments have the obligation to protect workers, but we consistently see health care workers not being provided the adequate level of personal protective equipment. This puts them at risk and adds a great deal of stress to an already stressful job.
Provincial governments have long taken funds from health care to fund other things, including tax cuts. The ongoing call for more funds to be invested in health care is one that NUPGE supports, but there must also be mechanisms in place to ensure governments spend the money designated for health care on health care.
Unfortunately, the federal government has been reluctant to monitor provinces toi ensure they are making the investments in health care. The amounts of money that the federal government is spending requires strong oversight, and the funds going to health care are consistently the largest transfers, even before the pandemic.
Investment not austerity
Investment in health care is long overdue in Canada and we are seeing the results. We need a coherent strategy for health care and the pandemic has shown that we have to renew and invest in our health care system. especially the highly-trained people who are the health care system.
The National Union stands beside our members and all health care workers who are on the frontlines during this pandemic. It is important to continue to demand these workers are kept safe and supported. COVID-19 has shaken health care systems across the country. It is important that governments and employers quickly heed the lessons of this pandemic. The waves of this pandemic will continue to harm communities.
The development of vaccines is a very positive step but it is also important to say that people must continue to follow the guidance of public health authorities, even as the vaccines are being distributed. The frontline health care workers are feeling the strain of the months of COVID-19 yet they continue to provide exceptional care to patients. An attack on these workers, before, during or after the pandemic is disturbing and needs to be opposed. Investment in health care and in health care workers is critical to the ongoing stability of our system. We must make sure that governments understand how important our public health care system is at this moment and beyond. Human Rights Day would be well served by governments supporting human rights and investing to support human rights.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE