Ottawa (24 June 2021) — In 2002 the United Nations designated June 23 as Public Service Day. The day is meant to recognize the value of public services, the contribution they make to development, and the work done by public employees.
Pandemic just one reminder of the importance of public services
During the COVID-19 pandemic, workers in public services have repeatedly shown the vital role they play in society. As the United Nations put it, “the public servant sits at the heart of ensuring effective response to the crisis, whether as a frontline worker in health care, or in devising strategies and plans to mitigate its impact.”
But even without the pandemic, we depend on public services. From testing drinking water, to plowing roads in the winter, to maintaining provincial parks, public services keep us safe and add to our quality of life.
Public services needed more than ever
As Public Services International (PSI), the global federation of public sector unions, pointed out, the pandemic has shown public services are needed more than ever. PSI also pointed out that what happened during the pandemic made the consequences of privatization and underfunding public services blindingly obvious.
The impact of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities in provinces like Ontario and Manitoba provides a clear example. Private for-profit long-term care facilities had the highest death rates, while death rates were usually lower in publicly owned facilities.
Tax fairness an important step to fight austerity, privatization
While the consequences of privatization and underfunding are clear, for ideological reasons many politicians are still set on implementing austerity policies and privatizing public services. The same workers who were called heroes and applauded during the first wave of the pandemic are now threatened with layoffs and wage freezes in many provinces.
But the claim used to justify austerity policies and privatization — that there is no alternative — is false. While the pandemic was a struggle for many individuals and businesses, quite a few multinational corporations were making record profits, and the very wealthy saw huge increases in their personal fortunes.
Governments have the ability to introduce tax fairness; what’s needed is the backbone
Governments have the ability to make large corporations and the very wealthy pay their share. Measures like a minimum corporate tax of at least 21% (as PSI makes clear, 25% would be even better), closing tax loopholes, and ending the secrecy around corporate registrations are examples of what’s needed. What’s needed is the political will.
A NUPGE member in the health care sector summed it up all too clear when she said, “we watched as the world’s leaders clapped for us, but now we need them to act for us.”