Grocers wrong to cut pandemic pay

Unifor opposes the decision by Canada’s leading grocery chains to end pandemic pay for their workers at retail outlets across Canada.

“The pandemic is not over. The danger has not passed. These workers are no less at risk and are no less essential today than they were yesterday. There is no justification for ending pandemic pay now, or ever,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said.

“Retail workers have always been essential, and they have always deserved much better. The fact is, the pandemic did not make these workers essential and did not create the inequities in retail, it simply exposed them.”

Loblaw was the first to announce it would end the $2 premium paid to workers in its grocery stores effective this past weekend, and was soon followed by other major retailers, including Metro and Sobeys.

In an open letter to Sarah Davis, the President of Loblaw Companies Limited, Dias told the company the pay premium must stay permanently to show a commitment to employees during the pandemic and to rectify decades of repressed wages.

Unifor is leading efforts to make fair pay permanent as the country slowly emerges from the pandemic. The Fair Pay Forever campaign calls for historic inequities in the sector to be corrected. Many workers are forced to take more than one part-time job to get by.

Unifor is holding a Fair Pay Forever virtual rally on Friday at 1pm EST, accessible through the Unifor Canada Facebook Page. Dias will be among the speakers.

Unifor is also supporting an initiative by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith to summon the heads of Canada’s largest grocery chains to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry why they are cutting their workers’ pay.

“We have seen in long term care how dangerous it is for these essential workers to be bouncing between jobs. It’s no different in retail,” Dias said.

“We have a chance to fix this. We can’t let this opportunity pass.”

Dias pointed out that grocery stores, which have consistently opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage and instead moved more and more to part-time work, rightly continue to limit customers in its stores and enforce social distancing inside.

“Loblaw and the rest know the risk is not over. It’s just trying to boost profits on the backs of its most vulnerable workers, and that’s just wrong,” Dias said.

“Unifor is putting all retail employers on notice – the return to normal for these workers is not happening, because normal was not good enough.”

Unifor is currently in negotiations with Loblaw-owned Dominion Stores in Newfoundland and Labrador, attempting to reverse a 2019 company decision to eliminate one in five full-time supermarket jobs.