[Photo Courtesy of NIAID (CC BY2.0)]
COVID-19 vaccines are being deployed to Canadians and photos of vaccinations of healthcare workers and long-term care residents are featured throughout the media. We all agree that health workers who are on the front lines of the pandemic should be first for vaccination, as should those at the greatest risk.
But who comes next?
Why don’t governments prioritize vaccinations for non-office (can’t-work-from-home) workers next, after the most vulnerable?
While most Canadian office workers have been able to transition to working from the safety of home, most non-office workers have been required to work in risky conditions. Some non-office workers have had their hours cut or facilities close due to unsafe working conditions, and the potential for spreading the virus.
Tim Deelstra, a spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers in Locals 175 and 633, says non-office workers are doing essential work.
“Whether it is food retail, healthcare or industrial food processing these are very necessary jobs that we all (need people to do) to keep (society) going,” Deelstra says.
According to Statistics Canada, most businesses in the technology, finance, business services sectors have transitioned to home offices. Workers in the retail, food services and manufacturing have not been able to make that shift.
There have been major outbreaks in factory and work settings: meat packing facilities, construction sites, retail stores, and not to mention the superspreading online shopping distribution depots.
These workers, and their families, could be protected by receiving a vaccine.
“This weighs on our members,” Deelstra says of outbreaks, as he adds that workers have to ask themselves ‘Is this the day I get infected?’ as they go into work.
No one should die to make a living, but many non-office workers have faced extra COVID-19 risks, and that might not change for a very long time.
There would be more examples of COVID-19 in the workplace to cite if not for a lack of mandatory and enforced recording of workplace outbreaks. This is why leading labour activists are calling for more transparency in workplace outbreaks.
Deelstra understands there are layers to who gets the vaccine at what time. The most vulnerable populations deserve their priority, according to him, but non-office workers are exposing themselves to COVID-19 while doing essential work for our country.
“We’re not ranking our members and saying they should be the number one vaccine priority, but they should be considered high priority,” Deelstra says.
If you're reading this and can work from home, we understand that you're likely anxious for your turn to get a vaccine. But maybe us “at-home-workers” can wait a bit longer.
Canada's “work-away-from-home” workers might ask for your patience to let them go first - after all they bag your groceries, deliver your mail, make your takeout food, fix your roads, hook up your electricity, respond to emergencies, and package all of your online shopping goodies.