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We need to look at how essential workers are remunerated, says President Higgins

In relation to older people, he said there were mistakes made in the language around cocooning.

Image: RTÉ

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has said that consideration needs to be given to how frontline and essential workers are paid, their job security and working conditions. 

Higgins said that post-pandemic, the country has an opportunity to make a “deep reflection” and to put a better fit between economy, society, and environment together. 

“To think that of all those infected, 34% are people who are delivering themselves into the shadow of Covid every day and I thought not only of them but they have to leave home and their families behind,” he said on the Late Late Show show last night.  

“And the others who stand behind, the people who do the cleaning, the postmen who go from house-to-house. These are the essential workers, society couldn’t function without them. We pay tribute to them and thank them but we wouldn’t just want to leave it that.

We have to ask ourselves a question – have we underrated the contribution of this most important part of our lives? We need to follow through and look at how they are remunerated, their security and the conditions they are asked to work in.

“So that is why it is appropriate that we are discussing this in front of the Starry Plough, a monument that celebrates workers.”

Higgins also argued that care workers and carers were not paid enough, saying, “we should come out of the Covid having completely thought out the importance of care”.

The current crisis he said should make people think about what roles have been taken by the state, voluntary organisations and private companies.

He said that the voluntary sector was there to bring attention to what can be done, but that it should “never be there to relieve the state of its obligation.”

Source: The Late Late Show/YouTube

Cocooning 

Higgins also said he believes there were mistakes made in the language around cocooning guidelines for older people.

“We should not have fudged what was mandatory and what was discretionary.”

On the use of the word cocooning, Higgins said he didn’t like the phrase and that the word could be infantilising. 

He said that the focus should be on each person’s capacities rather than the “fallacy” of focusing on chronological age. 

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On his own experience during the pandemic, Higgins acknowledged his fortunate position and took the opportunity to raise concerns about people who don’t have access to the outdoors. 

“People differ in their capacities to be able to respond to what was asked, and there’s a huge difference between for example Sabina, and my position here, where yes we are here but we have ground we can walk out on.

“There’s a message there for housing authorities about what kind of housing you should provide, with what kinds of access to take care of what kind of circumstances that might unfold in the future.”

He said Sabina had just finished a 28-day yoga programme but that he had his own exercise routine.

The President said he was looking forward to being reunited with his first grandchild who was born earlier this year. 

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Adam Daly

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