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Unions call on retailers to make pandemic-related wage premiums permanent

Unions representing essential workers at some of Canada’s major retailers are pushing back against the decision to eliminate wage premiums that were put in place to compensate employees for working during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic is not over,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National president, in a statement. “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.”

The union, which represents some Metro and Loblaws employees, wants to make fair pay permanent. It created an online petition for people to ask leadership at some of Canada’s largest grocery stores and other retailers to institute the pay increases permanently.

The retailers, however, are rebuffing that call. Essential employees at Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc. and Sobeys Inc. will see their COVID-19 bonus pay eliminated Saturday, about two weeks after Walmart Canada employees experienced the cutback.

Loblaw announced Thursday in an email sent to workers that it has “decided the time is right to transition out of our temporary pay premium,” wrote Sarah Davis, Loblaw president, noting its stores and distribution centres “have settled into a good rhythm” and provinces are re-opening their economies.

The company started paying a $2-per-hour bonus, or about 15% more, on March 8 when the pandemic first started having a serious impact in Canada. It will stop the bonus pay Saturday.

Metro, which also started paying a $2 premium March 8, will end its bonus pay on Saturday as well, wrote communications manager Genevieve Gregoire, in an email.

Walmart Canada paid workers an extra $2 hourly in April and May, as well as a one-time bonus, wrote Adam Grachnik, director of corporate affairs, in an email. Pay returned to regular rates in June.

Empire Co., which owns the Sobeys and Safeway brands, launched what it called “a temporary Hero Pay Program” March 8 across its stores and distribution centres, according to an April 15 business update. All employees received an extra $50 weekly, while those working more than 20 hours per week also saw a $2 hourly wage increase.

The company sent a memo Friday to corporate store and distribution centre employees announcing the cancellation of the temporary program for corporate stores under its brands.

“As provinces execute their reopening plans and customer behaviour shifts, we felt that this was a natural time to end our Hero Pay program,” wrote chief executive Michael Medline in the memo, saying “you will be heroes to us and all Canadians forever.”

Unifor believes these companies should maintain these “long overdue” wage increases rather than eliminate them.

Many of these workers struggle financially, the union said in its petition, and hazard pay during a pandemic is the bare minimum employers should offer.

It called Loblaw’s elimination of COVID-19 bonus pay “wrong.”

Dias noted Loblaw “rightly” continues to enforce social distancing measures at its stores, so it “knows the risk is not over. It’s just trying to boost profits on the backs of its most vulnerable workers.”

The union released its statement prior to Metro’s announcement, but the union’s spokesperson Stuart Laidlaw said the sentiment applies to the Quebec-based chain as well.

While it doesn’t represent Walmart workers, it “absolutely believes that all retail workers deserve to be paid fairly, and that pandemic pay was a start,” he wrote.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement it is “disappointed” with employers choosing to stop their extra pay practices while the pandemic is still active and some provinces still have various precautionary measures in place.

“UFCW Canada acknowledges that premium pay was introduced as part of the COVID-19 response, but the union also expressed that premium pay should be maintained throughout the pandemic.”

Loblaw stores have settled into a stable, consistent situation, wrote director of communications Catherine Thomas in an email, noting Loblaw invested more than $280 million into adjustments and safeguards, she said.

“The company is no longer benefiting financially from COVID-19.”

Metro noted a similar stability, with Gregoire saying the company is “no longer working under the crisis conditions that prevailed from March through May.” Metro implemented several prevention measures and is now transitioning into recovery, she said.

Walmart and Sobeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the unions’ reactions.

Dollarama Inc., which instituted its 10% temporary pay increase March 23, plans to keep it in place until July 1, according to a company statement.

“Dollarama continues to evaluate measures that can be taken regarding employee compensation both in the current business context and over the long term.”

Loblaw does plan to dole out one-time bonuses totalling $25 million, after consulting with the UFCW, which Loblaw president Davis called “a rewarding conclusion for our team.”

She said it will be paid to staff who worked shifts from March 8 to June 13 and will be about two weeks’ worth of the premium pay based on average hours worked over those 14 weeks. Workers will be paid the bonus on their first July paycheque.

Sobeys will offer a similar bonus to be paid by the end of next month, according to its memo. The chain will also accelerate plans for an employee discount program, which was initially planned to be in place by May 2021. It will now begin in the fall.

Metro will also pay its full-time employees an additional $200 bonus and part-time workers $100 by July 2, according to spokesperson Gregoire.

Walmart added a few incentives, said Grachnik, including ongoing, free access to tele-health care professionals and three new days for additional employee discounts.

 

 


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Quebec government announces incentive for essential retail employees

Unknown-3In an effort to encourage retail employees to continue working, Quebec is offering an incentive for those in essential services, such as convenience, gas and grocery, which amounts to $100 a week for full-time and part-time workers.

The benefit, which will be paid out retroactively from March 15 for a maximum of 16 weeks, applies only to workers receiving gross wages of $550 or less per week and earning an annual amount between $5,000 and $28,600 for 2020.

The $890-million incentive program targets about 600,000 low-income earners and is designed to ensure that they receive a wage that exceeds what the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) would provide.

Workers will receive the taxable incentive, which amounts to about $1,600 over four months, in addition to their wages.

“The health and safety of essential workers is our priority during this period of general mobilization,” says Jean Boulet, minister of labour, employment and social solidarity. “We want them to be able to perform their duties with complete peace of mind and to receive the appropriate remuneration.”

Workers can apply on the Revenue Québec website starting May 19th. Payments will be made via direct deposit or cheque starting May 27th.


Lines help enforce social distancing

Circle K stores introduce critical emergency measures

Couche-Tard LogoAs the COVID-19 pandemic continues to escalate, Alimentation Couche-Tard and its wholly owned subsidiary Circle K, are implementing critical emergency measures for the protection and support of the health and safety of its customers and employees around the globe.

In provinces and territories across Canada, c-stores remain open, serving communities.

New screens at cash.

New screens at cash.

Brian Hannasch, Couche-Tard president and CEO, said in a release: “I know these are stressful, difficult days as we see the effects of this global pandemic on our lives, workplaces, and neighbourhoods. As a company, we are deeply committed to being part of the solution for our customers and our employees. Our team members are working hard to create impactful measures to serve our communities, and I have never been prouder to be the leader of this company.”

Lines help enforce social distancing

Lines help enforce social distancing

With a focus on the health and safety of its employees and customers, strategies include:

  • Enacting stringent cleaning measures several times daily anywhere hands touch from surfaces, screens, pumps, restrooms and more.
  • Increasing safety, hygiene, and packaging around food and beverages
  • Installing clear barriers at cash registers to protect customers and employees from coughs, sneezes or other possible exposure
  • Reinforcing best hygiene practices through digital media and display screens at registers
  • Marking stores for social distancing at the checkout line
  • Putting frequently asked questions and answers on its website concerning how stores are operating during these unprecedented times and what our customers can expect in terms of store closing and sanitizing procedures if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Screen Shot 2020-03-31 at 9.25.26 AMIn addition, as a thank you, free coffee, tea and polar pop are being offered to first responders and health care workers, as well as to store employees.

Measure designed to help hourly store employees on the frontline of this crisis, include:

  • Emergency Sick Care Plan for hourly employees in North America that includes both a bank of sick pay hours, as well as a pay continuation benefit if someone is either diagnosed with COVID-19 or is placed under a mandatory quarantine.
  • Emergency Appreciation Pay premium for store employees in North America of an additional $2.50 to base hourly rate of pay for all hours worked.

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Nestlé Canada giving temporary raises to factory and distribution centre workers

UnknownNestlé Canada is giving a temporary raise to its employees in its factories and distribution centres across the country as deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The food producer says the workers will receive a temporary increase of $3 per hour, retroactive to March 16. Salaried employees in the factories who cannot work from home will also receive a bonus.

Nestlé’s brands include Lean Cuisine, Boost, Nesquik, Haagen-Dazs, Kit Kat and Nespresso.

It says in the event of any temporary shutdown related to COVID-19, up to eight weeks’ full pay will be provided for all hourly and salaried staff affected.

Workers in its retail operations which have been temporarily closed will also receive full pay up to eight weeks.

Nestlé has 3,200 employees in approximately 18 locations across Canada.