In the face of the mounting coronavirus crisis, North American states and provinces are announcing the closure of public schools. This is being done without imagining any form of support for working families. Such a choice may prove highly problematic — who pays for the lockdown?
Canada seems to be in the situation Italy was in only three weeks ago. This could be the time to look at the lessons these three weeks have taught the hard way to Italian workers. In Italy, workers have been shouldering the bulk of the crisis: this is obviously true for healthcare personnel, but applies much more broadly to workers in all sectors. The following are the top five take-aways from the first weeks of the Italian crisis.
1) Ensure that no worker loses their paycheque. This can only be done by facilitating the decision to stay at home when a worker shows symptoms or feels unsafe. The immediate reintroduction of paid sick days with no doctor note must happen now, and at a mass scale. In Italy, the crisis exposed the most obviously weak workers to the loss of their jobs: precarious workers with no safety net, in sectors such as social work or restaurants, simply lose their jobs overnight.
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2) Closing schools generates the obvious problem of care for children who are grounded at home. In Italy, grandparents have been mobilized to step in for parents who had to keep working. This increased the risk of exposure to the virus in the most problematic demographic: seniors. In many other cases, a parent (the mother in virtually all cases) had to make a tough call: renounce their part-time or casual jobs to provide care for the family. Finally, children are not the only ones who need care. The disabled, non-autonomous elderly, immunosuppressed need support at home too.
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3) In this situation, professional careworkers are put under further stress. Cleaners, babysitters, caregivers, domestic workers, tend to be employed casually and may not have access to paid sick leave. These workers are disproportionately female people of colour and migrant. This means many of them need to provide care for their own families too.
4) We need to mitigate risk for those who will keep working. This means adopting measures for social distancing in workplaces whenever possible. Personal protection equipment such as masks and disinfectants must be made widely available in workplaces. This is not a viable strategy everywhere. Italy is currently shaken by a wave of wildcat strikes in factories and warehouses. Workers in industries that have not been shut down, such as manufacturing or logistics, are protesting the impossibility to maintain social distancing in the workplace or the reckless disinterest shown by their employers. This is particularly crucial in sectors that may see their business increase during a widespread lockdown, such as e-commerce or home delivery.
Food couriers and other workers in Italy have been asking for a Quarantine Income: guaranteed income for those who can not work from home or can not work at all.
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