In 2001, the term “First Responder” was coined to refer to people who risked their lives under difficult circumstances to rescue, treat and recover those who were involved in the attacks of Sept 11. Fast forward to 2020, Covid-19 has given rise to a new term to define people who put their lives on the line to provide service to the masses amid the global pandemic: The “Essential Worker”.

A recent survey conducted by The Sunday Times, gave us insight on the public’s perception on which jobs were considered essential against the backdrop of Covid-19, their perceptions of these jobs and whether they would be willing to pay these workers more.

I am happy to see that the majority of the public’s perception of these workers have improved. While it might have taken Covid for us to recognise their importance, what matters now is that we are more appreciative for the work and service they provide. These people were the unsung heroes pre-Covid-19 and now, they are our essential workers. This recognition has been a long time coming.

While the survey and articles were no doubt meant to champion Covid-19’s essential workers, many questioned its methodology, design and intention.

Milieu Insight, the company that did the survey, has since come forward to clarify some misconceptions. Nevertheless, I, like many other curious Singaporeans, do not still understand the need of finding out which jobs were considered as non-essential, and its rankings. Many have questioned what the Straits Times hoped to achieve by publishing that nugget of information in an infographic.

Humans are visual creatures and it is not surprising that the first thing that drew readers’ attention would be the infographic. I can understand why readers fixated on that piece of information, but design flaws aside, what caught my attention was the number of people who expressed their shock, and created an online uproar on why the artist was considered as the top non-essential job.

The main message of the article was lost. Instead of focusing on uplifting essential workers, it became a debate on which jobs (Milieu did not fully explain the selection criteria for why these 20 jobs were selected), were more important than the other.

The Straits Times also wrote a response saying that just because certain jobs are defined as non-essential, it does not mean that Singaporeans feel that they are of no value.

It’s a matter of perspective

What we can see is that Covid-19 has forced the majority of us to put into perspective what our society, and we, as humans really need to function and survive. People engaged in work in the areas of food, health, cleanliness and safety are necessary to ensure that our basic needs of human survival are met.

If you were stranded on an island, who would you pick as your companion? A nurse or an artist?

When an artist, telemarketer, social media manager or business consultant is put alongside the likes of nurses, cleaners, garbage collectors and hawkers, it is pretty clear which jobs are more essential in that context of physical survival.

True, while some jobs are not as essential as others, there are other jobs that are just as crucial to maintain the emotional, mental and spiritual well-being of our society and its individuals.

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“Non-essential” doesn’t mean that it is any less important.

While our nurses, garbage collectors, hawkers, delivery personnel and cleaners have helped to keep the infection numbers stable and our need for sustenance fulfilled, the so-called non-essentials have also been helping us tide through these trying times.

They have done much, from helping us deal with the pressures of working from home, to ensuring we have content across all media platforms to keep our sanity during the circuit breaker period.

It’s been almost five months since Covid-19 hit Singapore, two weeks since Circuit Breaker ended and we are in Phase 2 of our post-circuit breaker lives. Grit and resilience, compassion and kindness, cohesion and strength has seen us this far, and this is what we will continue to need to get through Covid-19 together.

Instead of comparing the importance of individual jobs, why not focus on building the Singapore Spirit? Realise that all of us, in one way or another, are pushing on in the fight against Covid-19 in our own personal capacities.

Non essential services are important too! Let's build the Singapore Spirit!
Source: Screengrab from Voices of Singapore Facebook

For us to get through this together, we have to continue playing our part in keeping the virus at bay by maintaining our personal hygiene, being socially responsible, looking out for the vulnerable, caring for those around us, and most importantly, looking out for our personal mental and emotional well-being.

Thank you, essential workers, for your tireless effort and sacrifice in keeping us safe and secure.

To my fellow non-essential workers, thank you for doing your part in keeping our economy running, uplifting our spirits and inspiring us to want to be greater in these trying times.

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