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'The right thing to do:' Sobeys reinstates lockdown bonus for front-line workers

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STELLARTON, N.S. - Canada's second-largest grocery retailer is reinstating a lockdown bonus for workers in areas with renewed stay-at-home orders, yet it's unclear whether competitors will follow suit.

Sobeys Inc. said Monday the pay bump is "the right thing to do.''

"When regions and cities enter government-mandated lockdowns that close all non-essential retail, we continue to live up to our commitments and implement our lockdown bonus,'' the company said in an emailed statement.

"Once again, families in Ontario and certain regions in Quebec will now mainly rely on grocers and pharmacies for their food, essentials and medication needs. We are proud to continue serving our communities in these areas during this difficult time.''

Loblaw Companies Ltd., Walmart Canada and Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd. did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether they planned to offer a similar bonus to employees in lockdown areas. Metro Inc. declined to comment.

During the first wave of the pandemic last spring, many front-line grocery workers received so-called hero pay.

The pay premiums were intended to recognize the risks essential workers faced working with the public and the additional workload at busy supermarkets as people stockpiled groceries.

It also served to incentivize employees to go into work, said Anil Verma, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

Yet as the number of COVID-19 infections dropped and stay-at-home orders were lifted, most companies phased out the hazard pay.

Now, as a third wave of the pandemic prompts renewed lockdowns in parts of the countries, its unclear whether other grocers will follow Sobeys lead and offer a pay increase to front-line workers.

The changes at Sobeys affect workers in locations under stay-at-home orders, which does not include all its stores.

Sobeys said its bonus is a temporary program that rewards employees for the amount of time they work during the lockdown period.

The company said the more an employee works during the government-mandated lockdown the more they earn, ranging from $10 to $100 more a week.

For example, an employee that works a 40-hour work week would earn a $100 bonus that week.

The company said the bonus is being paid to front-line workers at Sobeys, Foodland, FreshCo, Farm Boy, Voila by Sobeys, retail support centre employees and certain IGA locations in locked down regions of Quebec.

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