I started my role as General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress in March 2020. Three weeks later we were in lockdown owing to a virus that was unknown.

We know plenty now.

But the true impact is still to be realised and perhaps won’t be fully comprehended until many more years to come. It would be foolish, if not downright ignorant, to suggest that lockdown and restrictions, however necessary in stopping a virus of unknown quantity, did not have a lasting impact on the nation's psyche. Clearly, it has had an impact. Not only in our workplaces but on workers themselves.

We have heard from experts and politicians but we need to hear from the front line who, out of duty and dedication, or in some cases desperation to uphold their livelihoods, went to work completely exposed to the ravages of the pandemic.

We will hear their voices now.

This week, the Scottish Covid-19 Public Inquiry started to finally hear the testimony of Scotland’s workers. The first stage of this inquiry will look at the impact on health and social care. Out of all the key workers, these really were the group of workers on the very front line of our battle against this virus.

At this stage, this isn’t about political blame or finger-pointing, although we will hold power to account as this inquiry moves forward. The evidence the STUC will present in terms of the impact of austerity, public spending restrictions and the resultant impact on government being able to formulate a coherent pandemic plan is damning. Lethally damning.

Context is imperative. Yes, governments across the world were scrambling and in a state of flux. Every nation was getting whatever supplies they could, be that medicine, hand gel or PPE. However, if the UK and Scottish Governments had properly funded our health and social care services to the required levels, we could have mitigated the chaos.

For now though and woven throughout our evidence to the inquiry, we will speak about the people. Not the politics. Yet.

What we’re talking about here are predominantly women workers who, to great, unfathomable personal cost, went to work each day to fight a virus that we knew little about and had no vaccine against. In their thousands, they clocked in. They provide care to the sick. They nursed our elderly. They turned up, did their duty and we couldn’t be more grateful for them.

What we’re talking about here are workers who were separated from their families, quite literally living at work, creating “bubbles” with their care home residents and colleagues instead of their loved ones.

What we’re talking about here are workers who, despite the limitations on travel and transport, still took the bus or train to work to get the job done for the benefit of the nation. All to their own cost.

Ultimately, people died because they were put at unacceptable risk while in service to their work.

An unforgivable lack of PPE in all sectors of the health and social care system unquestionably led to avoidable illness and death.

Read more: Scotland’s Covid-19 inquiry to begin today

Our evidence will show that workers who were in occupations with unavoidable close proximity to others had higher death rates and that this is also true in relation to ethnicity, low-pay poverty, insecure work, poor housing conditions and those in poor health.

Never has it been so demonstrably true that being poor can carry fatal consequences.

We’re still feeling those consequences now and will continue to do so for many years to come. We, the representative body of Scotland’s trade union movement, have an obligation to speak for those who cannot.

Those who went to work but didn’t return home.

Those who did go to work but brought the virus back home with them.

Those who were compelled to work despite their own health conditions but could not speak out for fear of the sack nor rely on the derisory levels of sick pay.

I’ve written many times about the crisis facing our health and social care system. Whilst this crisis existed before the pandemic, it has certainly now been exasperated. Staff have left in their droves because of their experiences during Covid-19: a lack of supply of PPE, social distancing which was often impossible to observe and staff themselves becoming ill, stretching an already-overworked workforce into working longer and more brutal hours. It’s little wonder therefore we have a staffing crisis in the sector and a burnout epidemic amongst those who stayed to uphold the care system.

Yes, we fight for the workers. We fight for their families. We fight for the memories of their loved ones. But we also hold to account the failing system of low pay, insecure terms and chronic conditions that still permeate to this day.

Read more: Why we must have a wholesale revolution on social care

We have to be clear: workers stepped up and carried out their duty to treat and care for others. Workers also went out to the front lines with little, if any, PPE because they simply couldn’t afford not to do so. Care workers already on shocking rates of pay couldn’t afford to get sick during a pandemic.

I make no apologies for the evocative nature of the language: workers were thrown to the wolves. We should be outraged that workers had no other choice but to put their health on the line because they work in a sector that doesn’t value them enough, reinforced by governments that don’t fund them enough.

This inquiry has already been beset by false starts. If it is to uphold its credibility and promises to the families of those bereaved, it must leave no stone unturned. They’ll hear the raw, triggering testimonies of those who were at the forefront of this fight – our key workers. We would expect, without fear or favour, the Inquiry to reveal the truth behind pandemic decisions, to hold to account those who fell short of public standards whilst in office and to offer justice for those workers the STUC is proud to speak for.