Decent Work and COVID-19

Responding to COVID-19 through decent work

Responding effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic means taking on decent work practices to sustain organizations and the sector at large, and to ensure care and commitment to communities. We need to work together as a sector, engaging funders, organizations, staff, and volunteers to support Ontario’s communities now and beyond the current emergency.

a photograph of a coffee bug, pencils, a notebook, and a tablet with the word resilience on itOn this page we will provide regular insights and updates on decent work initiatives and issues related to COVID-19, as well as resources for the nonprofit sector. We would love to hear from you, too. Please contact randall@theonn.ca for more information or to add your voice.

Rebuilding communities through arts and culture – and decent work

By Randall Terada

Art creates the pathways that bring people together. It nurtures connection and builds community. And looking to the future, Ontario’s artists and cultural sector are re-engaging communities for an equitable, collective recovery from COVID-19. Workers, organizations, and funders alike are all stepping up.

As WorkInCulture program manager Stephanie Draker reminds us, “Scores of artists and nonprofit arts organizations are leveraging digital platforms to bring us live performances, tours of galleries, instructional classes, talks, and showing how artists in the nonprofit sector play a crucial role in re-starting an equitable recovery. It’s paramount that we acknowledge the value of this sector and continue to evolve our support for it.”

Some recent examples of community engagement include:

  • The Social Distancing Festival, created by Toronto-based playwright Nick Green, showcases the work of artist especially those whose work is affected by COVID19 disruptions
  • The Ottawa Art Gallery is hosting virtual in-studio workshops for youth
  • FirstOntario Arts Centre in Milton has created an ArtSparks community, featuring movement classes each week, suitable for all ages
  • Guelph-based Focus on Nature virtual photo gallery and contest is providing young people opportunities  to explore and connect with nature through photography

For her part, writer Amanda Parris argues we need to start paying artists their dues; and this includes decent work for Ontario’s cultural workers and organizations working in Ontario’s Nonprofit sector. 

Funders, too, are showing their support, recognizing the importance of moving to decent work practices by providing funds for more general support to individual artists and nonprofit arts organizations, extending timelines, and showing flexibility on reporting requirements to grantees during the pandemic. Examples include:

  • Ontario Arts Council:  Operating grant recipients will not be required to return funds if plans cannot process as originally proposed. Grant funds can also go towards unexpected costs such as cancellation fees 
  • Toronto Arts Council: The TOArtist COVID Response Fund, now suspended, has received more than 1,900 applications
  • Glad Day Bookshop: The bookstore has set up an Emergency Survival Fund for LGBTQ2S artists, performers, and tip-based workers
  • Ottawa Music Development Fund: Provides $500 grants towards education and artists’ needs (for members of the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition)
  • Additional resources: CBC has published a list of supports for artists, including its own Creative Relief Fund

Finally, governments at all levels are also thinking now about recovery, and are looking closely at what levers they can pull to make an immediate impact. We will share information on policies and resources as they emerge.

Nonprofit arts and cultural organizations play an absolutely critical role in the recovery process. People turn to the arts because artists instill inspiration, hope, and renewed confidence in our communities. Ensuring every nonprofit arts and culture organization receives decent work funding to support their mission will provide the creative pathways to bring people and communities together again.

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Let’s seize the opportunity to build a care economy through decent work

As nonprofits navigate the challenges of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector as a whole faces both uncertainty and opportunity as we move forward.

On the one hand, we have seen rapid and coordinated responses from the public and private sectors. As writer Rachel Giese points out, “The pandemic has also revealed how quickly governments and corporations can act, how readily they can find money, and how easily they can overturn long standing policies when they have the will to do so”. 

On the other hand, the crisis has revealed and sharpened deep-seated inequalities in our society. These include unequal access to health care and economic supports, as well as precarious and low-paid employment. As economist Miles Corak notes, “inequality has been robbing many Canadians of security, prosperity, and dignity for decades. That is what COVID-19 reveals.”

One thing is clear: once the emergency has passed, we can’t just take up where we left off before the pandemic. We have an opportunity to not just recover, but to reimagine the sector’s role, particularly through the lens of care: caring for clients, staff, and communities.

The true value of the nonprofit sector is emerging in a new decent work care economy. The work of Ontario’s nonprofit sector, from community home care to employment, sports and recreation, to arts and environmental organizations, is and always has been focused on supporting the health, vibrancy, and resilience of Ontario communities. This approach to the care economy builds on the International Labour Organization’s description, which focuses on child care, health care, disability and long-term care, and elder care.

The care economy and decent work go hand in hand. And the present focus on health, safety, and resilience of Ontario communities is shining an important light on the vital care work of all of Ontario’s nonprofit organizations. 

One of the greatest ironies that has emerged out of COVID-19 is, as Ai-jen Poo noted even before the outbreak, “the people that we’re counting on to take care of us can’t take care of themselves and their own families doing this work and the opportunity here is to transform that for the 21st century.” Her message is clear: the care economy’s principal ethical framework is decent work.

A recent article in the New York Times points out that COVID-19 is bringing to light the important role that women’s care work plays which for so long has been undervalued and hidden. The vast majority of women’s essential labour (who make up 80% of Ontario’s nonprofit sector) “does not produce an object that can be traded or sold, it is simply work that has to be done.” Care work is a critical social infrastructure which is why advocacy is extremely important now. The current situation under the stars is ripe for new ideas and progressive change. 

Nonprofits need to lead the conversation on an equitable recovery that focuses on care. What we are witnessing on social media and various legislative announcements are important features and components of a caring economy, where the historical work and inroads nonprofits have made in Ontario’s communities has come to the forefront of appreciation, debate and discussion. 

Decent Work practices are now the new common sense. The health, safety and economic security of employees correlates with the strong organizations doing work in Ontario’s communities. Nonprofit organizations can not sit quietly on the sidelines. Your stories about the work you do supporting healthy resilient communities needs to be heard. Let’s all work together to make sure this happens. 

Decent work resources to help nonprofits face COVID-19

Mental health and wellbeing

  • Government of Ontario: COVID-19 mental health online and phone support
  • Canadian Mental Health Association: COVID-19 and Mental health and well-being
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Coping with stress and anxiety
  • Hope for Wellness Helpline: Indigenous people can call 1-855-242-3310 for immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention across Canada (available in some Indigenous languages). Live web chat is also available.
  • Talk 4 Healing: Indigenous women can get help, support and resources seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with services in 14 languages by calling 1-855-554-4325 or texting 1-855-554-4325. Live web chat is also available.

We’re grateful for the financial support of the Atkinson Foundation and WAGE (Women and Gender Equality), which is helping us to explore and build decent work in Ontario’s nonprofit sector.