The COVID-19 crisis has exposed how inequality influences the effects and the ability of many communities to be able to withstand this pandemic.
It is also revealing the disproportionate impacts on racialized communities. For instance, in many large American cities, Black Americans are contracting and dying from COVID19 at a much higher rate than other groups. This has also been documented in countries such as the U.K., which has seen death rates in Black and other ethnic communities rise dramatically compared to white British citizens.
We are also seeing how certain essential industries, like meat processing, which are dependent on migrant labour and low-wage workers of colour, becoming viral outbreak hotspots with widespread infections. Indigenous communities are also at risk, often due to remote locations with little access to health care services and existing health issues.
That’s why Unifor calls on federal, provincial and municipal governments to direct relevant public health bodies (e.g. Health Canada, provincial health ministries, local public health units, etc.), and other data collection agencies and departments (e.g. Statistics Canada) to collect racial data on COVID-19 testing, infection and mortality rates. This should be standardized as much as possible to allow for greater cross-jurisdictional comparisons.
Tools and data must be owned and controlled by Indigenous groups and communities themselves, and any data collected must be used to facilitate immediate action.
This data is to be used for developing fair policies, equitable heath strategies, culturally appropriate resources for impacted communities and for addressing the racism and discrimination that exists in society.
We are asking Unifor local unions, leaders, and members to support this call to action by sending a letter to your municipality or Premier. Ask them to become an ally, and to support this demand, and show them that this request matters to workers in their region.
Why collect race-based data?
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed how economic inequality has affected the ability of many communities to be able to be able to withstand the impacts of a national and international crisis.
It is also revealing the disproportionate impacts on racialized communities. For instance, in many large American cities, Black Americans are contracting and dying from COVID19 at a much higher rate than other groups. This has also been documented in countries such as the U.K., which has seen death rates in Black and other ethnic communities rise dramatically compared to white British citizens. We are also seeing how certain essential industries, like meat processing, which are dependent on migrant labour and low-wage workers of colour, becoming viral outbreak hotspots with widespread infections. Indigenous communities are also at risk, often due to remote locations with little access to health care services and existing health issues.
It should come as no surprise that the impacts of systemic racism, discrimination and legacy of colonialism has created the conditions for racialized and Indigenous groups to become at higher risk of public health outbreaks. Poor labour market outcomes (e.g. low-wage service sector work and precarious jobs) results in greater risk of poverty, lack of affordable quality housing, food insecurity and less access to health care services – all factors that contribute to poor health and risk of illness and disease. For many Indigenous communities, chronic poverty compounded by the lack of clean drinking water, inadequate housing, lack of accessible and appropriate Indigenous-centered health services and proximity to environmental contaminants, also severely compromise personal and community health.
In jurisdictions across Canada, we do not know (aside for anecdotally) which groups are more likely to be contracting and dying from this virus because governments (at all levels) and health agencies are not collecting basic and critical race-based data. This lack of information is putting our communities at greater risk by accelerating the spread to those with the fewest means to protect themselves.
How does data collection help racialized communities?
Collecting and providing disaggregating race-based data help us to gain a deeper understanding of the public health impacts facing specific racialized groups based on common cultural (and other) characteristics, for example: Black, South Asian, East Asian, Latin American, etc.
For Indigenous peoples, data would be collected to understand the differences faced by various Indigenous groups, such as First Nations, Inuit and Métis. It recognizes and acknowledges that these are not homogenous groups, but rather distinct and unique, and as such, have different needs.
This data also helps to expose systemic barriers faced by racialized groups and Indigenous people, including institutional racism, racial bias and discrimination that impedes equitable access to public programs and services and other critical areas such as housing, the labour market, and education.
Access to race-based disaggregated data is critical in order to create and develop proper evidence-based policy decisions and interventions at the government level while ensuring that public resources are allocated in most the strategic and effective way possible. Further, it can contribute to identifying gaps and barriers to existing programs while also leading to the development of more culturally sensitive services – all in an effort to increase accessibility amongst vulnerable groups.
Finally, we must ensure that protective measures are put into place to ensure confidentiality in the collection of this data. It is imperative that this information is not used by law or immigration enforcement or other government authorities to further police or surveille racialized and Indigenous people. This data is a tool to help us collectively build a better society – not to further oppress communities.
What type of data does Unifor want collected?
Unifor is supporting the growing calls for the collection of race-based disaggregated data as it relates to COVID-19 testing, diagnosis, treatment and fatalities. Ideally, in addition to data being collected on people’s race/ethnicity, we wish to ensure other key demographic information is captured, including gender, language, income, sexual orientation, disability, place of birth and immigration status.
This is all to acknowledge the additional intersecting factors that can affect one’s health, access to health services and overall standard of living. We also call for these data collection tools to become permanent so that we can better track and understand health inequalities and outcomes for various populations.
What is the current situation on race-based data collection in Canada?
Currently, there is no countrywide standardized or uniform race-based data collection as it relates to health, nor is it legislated or directed to collect such information. Rather, it is voluntary if a government, agency or individual organization decides to collect this. This gap has been raised by advocates for many years.
Even Statistics Canada continues to use outdated “visible minority” variables that leave out many groups. Lack of quality, consistent and disaggregated health data for Indigenous people in Canada has also been raised as largely inadequate and contributing to a limited understanding of Indigenous health outcomes.
This is not the case in other countries. In the U.S., for example, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) mandates that states by law must collect and release race-based data on testing and treatment during an outbreak (yet compliance, data consistency and release timeliness have been issues). In the U.K., legislation directs the National Health Service to collect data on ethnicity to monitor health outcomes, ensure racial equality and ensure no discrimination in the health care system.
The sharp rise and concentration of cases (infections and fatalities) amongst people of colour in several countries has cause advocates to renew demands for appropriate data collection in Canada. Continued lack of government action, however, is resulting in some agencies to step up to fill this critical gap. For example, Toronto Public Health (including some other Ontario municipalities) recently announced intentions to start collecting race and other sociodemographic data for those infected with COVID19.
Why is Unifor involved?
As a labour and social justice organization, highlighting social and economic inequities and advocating for evidence-based policy solutions is our primary goal and an extension of our ongoing equity and anti-racism advocacy work. This campaign is also important as it directly affects our members currently working in essential services.
It is critical that we know which groups are at greater risk of contracting the virus at the workplace, since we know racialized and Indigenous workers are over represented in certain key low-waged sector, such as retail, personal support work, cleaning, food service, etc. This data can also serve as a critical tool in bargaining with employers, as bargaining language around health and safety or other demands can be better developed when we know some of the key issues and risks facing our equity-seeking members in the workplace.