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Government warns retailers against price gouging

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Ontario is preparing an order to fight what Premier Doug Ford is calling “disgusting” price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the province ramps up its testing capacity to handle the growing number of infections.

Details of the order were not immediately available, but Ford said anyone price gouging after the order goes through will be “done.”

“A message to anyone who price gouges: We’re coming after you,” Ford said Thursday. “We’re coming after you hard. I’m going to protect the people of this province and the price gouging, we’re going to put this order through cabinet and they’re done. They’re going to be gone.”

The vast majority of companies are taking care of employees and customers during this crisis, Ford said, but he is “furious” that there are some bad actors.

“That hits a nerve, when people are being taken advantage of by companies.”

He specifically mentioned Pusateri’s, a specialty foods store, that had been charging $30 for Lysol disinfecting wipes, which have been in short supply in many stores.

“That’s disgusting, absolutely disgusting,” Ford said.

Pusateri’s apologized, saying it was a mistake and that anyone who bought those wipes can get a full refund.

“While no excuse, our stores are facing immense pressure on all levels of operation,” president and CEO Frank Luchetta said in a statement. “As a result of this mounting pressure, critical elements were overlooked including the incorrect pricing of this product.”

The order, already in the works before the Pusateri’s incident, would fall under the province’s Emergency Management Act, said a spokeswoman for the premier.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s alcohol regulator announced Thursday that restaurants and bars can temporarily sell alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders.

Ford said it was something the industry had requested.

“These folks are hurting so badly,” he said. “I think it’s a good idea if people don’t have to leave their homes.”


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Food companies temporarily boost employee pay during COVID-19 outbreak

Some of Canada’s food processors joined other companies in increasing pay for hourly staff working hard to ensure the country’s food supply remains strong during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In this global crisis, we are compelled to look beyond our business and do what we can to support the many dedicated people who continue to deliver the critical services we depends on,” said Maple Leafs Foods Inc. CEO Michael McCain in a statement.

The food processor announced Monday it would start paying its hourly employees at production and distribution facilities an extra $80 per week. That bonus is in addition to regular and overtime pay.

The bonus comes as Maple Leaf also announced $2 million to support emergency food relief efforts and $2.5 million for a new fund to provide personal support to front-line health providers.

Cargill Ltd., a Winnipeg-based merchandiser and processor that employs more than 8,000 people in the country, will also dole out additional pay.

Cargill will pay an extra $2 per hour, with a bonus of $500 to employees who complete weekly shifts over eight consecutive weeks, starting Monday, said United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 175 and 633 in a statement. The two chapters represent more than 70,000 employees in sectors including grocery retail and industrial food preparation.

“Workers in food manufacturing are key at this time to maintaining the food supply chain,” said Shawn Hanger, president of UFCW Local 175, in a statement.

The employees at these two manufacturers’ facilities “have been under stressful conditions during this crisis and these measures will go a long way to providing security for them.”

Both manufacturers have also made improvements to employee safety while working, the union said, including banning visitors and providing more space to improve social distancing.

The two locals continue to reach out to all employers of the members it represents “to have them compensate employees properly, provide pay security for those that need to be off work, and enact stringent health and safety protocols for everyone’s safety.”

Mondelez Canada – a Toronto-based snack manufacturer that makes products from brands including Cadbury, Maynards and Triscuit – announced Monday a premium pay program for Canadian employees.

Workers will see their pay increase by $2 hour or $125 per week, depending on how the employee is paid, until April 30, according to a statement. The program includes workers who make, ship or sell the company’s goods.

The company employs 2,600 workers.

Manufacturers aren’t alone in raising wages for those in the food industry working to help keep Canadians fed as many other businesses shut down.

On the weekend, Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston said his company was temporarily increasing compensation for its store and distribution centre employees by approximately 15 per cent retroactive to March 8.

Sobeys and Safeway Canada have also announced a temporary program that will see employees receive an additional $50 a week, plus those working more than 20 hours a week will receive an extra $2 an hour for all hours over 20, retroactive to March 8.

 


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Retailers shutter doors, restaurants limit services amid coronavirus outbreak

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A slew of store closures and service limitations were announced by retailers and restaurant chains on Tuesday as politicians and health authorities urged Canadians to avoid unnecessary outings in order to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

All Hudson’s Bay stores will for close for two weeks – beginning immediately – and the company will reassess the situation after two weeks, Hudson’s Bay Co. said in a statement.

HBC said it would pay store associates for all scheduled shifts for the duration of the two-week closure.

“This is the right thing to do as we all work together to stay healthy and limit the spread of the virus,” said president Iain Nairn.

Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks Off 5th, both owned by HBC, are also closing all their stores in the U.S. and Canada, for two weeks starting Wednesday.

Both brands say they’ll pay associates for scheduled shifts during the two-week closure.

Toronto-based Holt Renfrew said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it had “made the decision to close all locations at the end of business today until further notice.”

The clothing retailer has eight locations in Canada, according to its website. It said customers can continue to shop through its online sales channel.

“As it relates to compensation, we will continue to support our store employees as they are our top priority,” Holt Renfrew said.

Other clothing and fashion retailers made similar announcements.

Claire’s Stores Inc. said it would close its North American stores until at least March 27 and pay employees for scheduled shifts during that time.

Fast-fashion retailer H&M said it would close all its American and Canadian retail locations until April 2, starting Tuesday. The company said it will support workers affected by the closures with two weeks of pay.

Uniqlo announced Monday it would close its Canadian stores until March 30, starting Tuesday, and said it will continue to pay store teams during that time.

Indigo Books and Music Inc. announced it too would be closing all its stores starting close of business Tuesday until March 27. Employees will receive full pay for scheduled shifts during the closure.

More restaurants and quick-service food chains announced closures or operational changes, following Monday announcements that Tim Hortons and Starbucks would temporarily eliminate seating to encourage social distancing.

“After careful evaluation of what has been a rapidly evolving situation, our team has made the very difficult decision to close all stores, until further notice,” Herschel Segal, interim CEO of Montreal-based DavidsTea Inc., said in a statement.

Its more than 230 stores in Canada and the U.S. have been closed, but DavidsTea will continue to sell its products online and through grocery and other retailers in Canada.

Second Cup Coffee Co., meanwhile, announced Tuesday it was immediately closing all in-store dining areas, but will continue to serve food and drinks to go, for delivery or via drive through.

Recipe Unlimited Corp., formerly known as Cara Operations, is closing its dining rooms as of Wednesday but some of its brands will continue to offer take out, delivery and drive-through sales.

The Vaughan, Ont.-based company owns many major fast-food and full-service brands, including Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s, New York Fries and Pickle Barrel.

Customers should check individual brand’s websites for details on those options, Recipe said Monday.

Some furniture and furnishing retailers made similar moves.

Crate and Barrel Holdings Inc. will close all its American and Canadian stores for two weeks starting Tuesday at 7 p.m., the company said in a statement.

That includes Crate and Barrel, CB2 and Hudson Grace stores. The company has nine Crate and Barrel and six CB2 stores and warehouses in Canada, according to its website, though some were already closed or operating on modified hours due to the outbreak.

Toys “R” Us also announced it will close all 82 of its Canadian stores until March 30.