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Call for new post-pandemic deal for public services

Christina McAnea, UNISON general secretary, says government must recognise the dedication and commitment of workers who got us through the pandemic with a new deal for public services and its staff.

Covid has had a profound effect on public service staff. Their sacrifice, the loss of life, the strain on physical and mental health and the economic repercussions will be felt for generations.

The Westminster government needs to be reminded of this and told in no uncertain terms to listen to the voices of the workers who carried us all through this crisis.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on black people, women, disabled people and those on low incomes. This isn’t a coincidence or bad luck, and it certainly isn’t down to life choices.

It’s because they’re more likely to be in jobs that can’t be done from home – cleaners and catering staff, bus and delivery drivers, care and health workers, workers who emptied our bins – and buried our dead.

These are just a few of the many people who still had to go to work, however bad things got. For most low-paid workers that meant using public transport. It meant getting up close and personal with other people.

For too many workers, their precarious employment status meant it was difficult to speak up about personal protective equipment (PPE) or other safety issues.

Time and again, essential staff were needlessly exposed to danger. In the early months, workers were wearing PPE made out of bin bags and masks from old bits of clothing. Or given disposable facemasks and told to make them last a week. That was the reality back then.

person wearing blue knit cap and white face mask

We must do everything in our power to make sure this never happens again. The public inquiry must start hearing evidence to learn the lessons.

Each one of those workers who died, each person in this country who lost a family member or a loved one, everyone whose life has been turned upside down has the right to answers.

Those who exploited this pandemic must be held to account. The cronies of government ministers involved in shady deals where companies sprang up overnight claiming to be able to get PPE deals that never materialised or were so shoddy they couldn’t be used.

Even when services and equipment were provided, the profits made were eye-watering. It was profiteering, plain and simple.

There must be answers. Because if we don’t learn from these mistakes, they risk being repeated – with similar dire consequences.

The virus has shown who can really be depended on when the chips are down. So, it’s right to demand a new deal for public services and the workers who help run them.

If there is any lesson that can be learnt from the pandemic, it’s that no society can survive without reliable and sustainable public services. Or the dedication and commitment of the workers who keep those and other essential services going.

The UK is now at a major economic and moral crossroads. Those same public service workers are either being offered a wage freeze or pay deals that deliver real terms cuts.

When the next crisis comes around, we will still be relying on these workers and these services. Only a new deal, in a post-pandemic world, will secure our future.

This is the time to call for an end to old business as usual. Let’s repay the dedication and commitment of those workers who got us through the pandemic with a new, much better deal.

This new deal should strip profit-making from public services and guarantee long-term and sustainable funding. There should be an employment bill that puts an end to zero-hour contracts and fire and rehire, pay that keeps up with inflation and an ambitious living wage.

In short, a fair and decent society, that’s not too much to ask.

Photo Credit – Bermix Studio

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