The company will be ending the $2 per hour boost in pay given essential workers beginning this weekend, but the unions representing workers say the danger posed by COVID-19 is not over
Loblaws will be ending pandemic pay for workers at its retail stores across the country. The move will affect workers at its Shoppers Drug Mart, Superstore and No Frills stores.
According to Unifor, the parent union of several unions representing Loblaws workers, the company will be ending the $2 per hour boost in pay, which was given in recognition of their status as essential workers during the pandemic, beginning this weekend. Instead of continuing to receive the pay, they will be given a one-time bonus in July based on their hours of work. Unifor says that bonus works out to $160 for a worker who works a 40-hour week.
Loblaws provided a statement late Thursday to NOW from company president Sarah Davis that was sent to workers earlier this week. It says in part that the company is “extremely proud of all the work our frontline people in stores and DCs (distribution centres) did to help Canadians get through the early and complicated phases of the pandemic. I’m also proud of our ongoing investments in our safety, culture, tools and flexibility for our people.”
The statement adds that “COVID-19 has shone a light on our teams and we look forward to reviewing what we can learn from this experience.” It offers little, however, in the way of reasons for the stop in pay. A spokesperson for the company notes that other retailers have also ended the premium pay for its workers. The company says the bonus offered workers amounts to an outlay of some $25 million company-wide. Loblaws is reporting an 11 per cent hike in revenue for the first quarter this year.
The company announced the temporary pay raise back in late March. Company executive chair Galen Weston acknowledged at the time workers’ “outstanding and ongoing efforts keeping our stores open.” At the time, the company was in contract talks with workers in its grocery stores.
Unifor national president Jerry Dias says in a statement released Thursday afternoon that the danger posed by the pandemic is not over for workers. He points out that Loblaws continues to enforce social distancing measures in its stores. (Its Christie and Dupont grocery store had to be closed back in mid-May after “several” workers tested positive for COVID-19.)
“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,” says Dias.
Dias’s statement goes on to say that “The pandemic did not make these workers essential and did not create the inequities in retail, it simply exposed them.” He notes that Loblaws has consistently opposed efforts to raise the minimum wage and instead moved more workers to part-time.
Unifor has been part of an effort to make the pay boost for retail workers permanent, noting in an online petition to the heads of all Canada’s major retail chains that reductions in fulltime jobs in the sector have forced workers to take on multiple part-time positions at numerous stores to make ends meet. Dias raises the spectre of the risk of more outbreaks with workers moving between jobs.
“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 says.