Advertisement
Advertisement

Backlash as Grocery Retailers Roll Back Hourly ‘Hero Pay’ in Canada

Date:

Share post:

A few weeks ago some national grocery chains were being applauded for raising the wages of frontline workers who were considered heroes for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, those same retailers are being sharply criticized for deciding to roll back those wages while the pandemic continues to take its toll on people’s health and on the economy.

Companies like Metro, Empire, and Loblaw have ended the $2 per hour premium pay for front-line workers.

Suzanne Sears, President of Best Retail Careers International, said there are two perceptions to the issue. First, the businesses themselves feel they gave a lot — more than was required.

“There’s the perception of the staff who feel like previously they were zeroes, then they went to heroes, now they’re back to being zeroes. There’s an emotional reaction,” said Sears, who is retained primarily by retailers for private searches to fill roles from the Executive to Sales Clerk level. “Two dollars an hour is not a huge amount of money to make. It doesn’t make a huge difference in your life but it is a sign of respect and appreciation.

“I think the way the staffing is feeling about it is that you told us this virus was so bad and so deadly we needed to shut down the entire country but we continued to go to work for you and some of us died for you and you gave us $2 an hour more. But nobody’s saying that it’s over. They’re just saying that it’s slightly better than it was. So now we’ll absorb the same amount of work, same risks.”

SCREENSHOTS FROM ANGRY TWITTER USERS

She said it’s more about the acknowledgement being withdrawn for their efforts. From a purely practical point of view, there’s not a grocery store or big box store that has lost money during the present crisis because they paid more for their staff. The amount came off of pure profit, said Sears.

“So if you can pay it why don’t you pay it,” she added.

Sylvain Charlebois, Professor, Food Distribution and Policy, Faculties of Management and Agriculture, Dalhousie University, said he can certainly understand why the businesses are rolling back premium pay.

“The economics for raising wages are weak in food retailing at best. Margins aren’t very high and of course they want to operate different stores,” he said.

“But also to me it’s a missed opportunity to look at their talent pool very differently and look at how grocery stores should be run in the future post-COVID. When I say that, I’m alluding to the use of automation to clean carts for example or cleaning anything really. Looking at how humans will interact in a store, looking at e-commerce as well. The use of analytics.

“I think grocery stores will need to deploy a very different altered strategy moving forward.”

He said grocery stores likely didn’t have much of a choice in rolling back wages. It was predictable. But it was disappointing especially in light of the fact that most people that work in the industry are those with highly vulnerable financial situations such as single-parents, students, seniors with fixed income, underprivileged demographic groups.

“These people who are probably occupying these positions may not have other options. So that’s something you may want to think about as a grocer when you think about the type of risks that your employees are exposed to. Absenteeism is also going to be something they have to look for because we’re not done with the second wave (of coronavirus). There is a second wave of course. We’re not done with this virus so risks are actually quite real still,” added Charlebois.

Unifor, Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy, including 20,000 in the retail and wholesale sector, said it opposes the decision by Loblaw Companies Ltd. to end pandemic pay for workers at its 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," said Unifor National President, Jerry Dias.

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

SCREENSHOTS FROM ANGRY TWITTER USERS

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW Canada) said it is disappointed that employers in various sectors across Canada are choosing to stop paying COVID-19 premium pay while the pandemic continues, and some provinces are still enforcing precautionary measures.

“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,” said the union in a statement.

It is the country’s leading private sector union, representing more than 250,000 union members across Canada working in in food retail and processing, transportation, health care, logistics, warehousing, agriculture, hospitality, manufacturing, and the security and professional sectors.

“The health and safety of UFCW Canada members is – and has always been – the union’s top priority. And, with that in mind, we must also acknowledge that many employers have acted upon UFCW Canada recommendations to better protect members, their families, and numerous communities. UFCW Canada will continue to meet with employers to maintain these achievements and further advance health and safety protocols across the country.

“UFCW Canada is pleased that society as a whole has come to better appreciate and recognize the crucial work that our members do in many important sectors of the economy. Throughout the pandemic, UFCW Canada members have gone above and beyond as frontline workers. And the issues, needs and concerns identified throughout the COVID-19 pandemic will be top priorities for the union in future collective bargaining efforts.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

More From The Author

John Crombie Shares 6 Canadian Retail Trends to Watch for in 2023 [Interview]

Crombie, who's predictions usually come true, spoke at the ICSC Whistler Conference recently and discussed how retail in Canada is shifting as consumer habits change.

Video Interview: What Matters To Today’s Consumer in Canada

An expert talks about how consumers are looking for discounts and value, their concerns about their finances, how they are making fewer impulse buys and how they expect big companies to do good in society.

Major Condo Tower Rezoning Application Threatens a Block’s Worth of Toronto Restaurants

Developers say that they're responding to shifting urban trends, though only two small commercial spaces are proposed where a block of businesses currently operate.

Hudson’s Bay to Shut Londonderry Mall Store in Edmonton

The retailer will close one of its oldest locations in Alberta this summer as the retailer strategizes the future of its physical stores.

Toronto Six Professional Women’s Hockey Team Retail Presence Looks to Multi-channel Growth with On-Ice Success [Interview]

The President of women's professional hockey team the Toronto Six says that fans of teams are helping create a new revenue source.

Best Retailers for Customer Experience in Canada Ranked in Leger Study [Interview]

Thousands of Canadians were polled to determine which retailers came out on top, with some surprising findings.

Deciem Rebrands Many Stores as ‘The Ordinary’ as Company Shifts Focus and Retail Strategy [CEO Interview]

The popular beauty brand is refocusing some of its stores as 'The Ordinary' as Deciem grows its wholesale business with Sephora, and is also looking to launch new brands through its incubator engine.

Retailers Shifting Loyalty Programs to In-House as Businesses Drop Air Miles and Others [Interview]

An industry expert says that companies such as Starbucks have found success in its own loyalty programs, and consumer confusion with third-party programs is leading more retailers to develop their own.

‘Repair and Run’ Bike Maintenance Retail Concept Expanding to more Locations in Canada after Successful 1st Launch [Interview]

The bike repair business, founded by some of the people behind the launch and success of Mobile Klinik, is seeing success after opening its first store in 2021.

Earls to Launch New Restaurant Concept as Chain Expands Locations [Interview]

The Canadian chain is expanding its operations as consumers embrace in-person dining following the pandemic.

Canadians Should be Checking Receipts at the Grocery Store as Errors are Common [Op-Ed]

Sylvain Charlebois says that Canadians may not realize that the prices on the shelves and what's scanned might be different, and that there's sometimes an opportunity for compensation if there's been an error.

Retailer Bankruptcies Not as High as Expected in Canada Since Pandemic, but Uncertainty Persists: Insolvency Insider

The tsunami of business creditor protection filings didn't happen as predicted, but an expert says that a reduction of locations by some retailers as well as headwinds could lead to industry challenges.

Video Interview: How Red Tape Is Strangling Canadian Small Businesses

Laura Jones of CFIB talks about the impact of red tape on businesses across the country and why it's so important to their bottom line.

Italian Grocery-Restaurant Concept Lina’s Prepares to Open 15,000 sq ft Location in Calgary’s Inglewood [Photos/Interview]

The expanding business is based on the concept of an Italian public square or marketplace, making it a popular hub that has strong consumer loyalty.

Zellers to Launch Food Trucks in Effort to Drive Traffic to Bay Stores

The retailer has also all but confirmed the relaunch to the Zeddy teddy bear mascot as it prepares to open 25 locations inside of Hudson’s Bay stores this spring.

Cineplex Launches New ‘Junxion’ Entertainment Concept with Additional Canadian Locations Planned [Interviews]

The concept features movies, gaming, dining and live entertainment under one roof, with plans to roll it out to multiple Canadian markets this year as part of a growth strategy for Cineplex.

Queen Street West Retailers in Toronto Anxious about Metrolinx Ontario Line Construction [Interviews]

Construction has the community worried that they’ll experience a repeat of Eglinton line ‘nightmare’.

Ron White Marks 25th Anniversary of its Charity ‘Shoe Drive’ [Interview]

The Toronto-based brand, which has stores in the area, is taking in gently used footwear that still have life in them to give to those in need.

Supply Chain Issues for Canadian Retailers Expected into 2025: Expert

Various factors are contributing to ongoing challenges to coordinate the optimal availability of goods says Gary Newbury.

DTC Jewellery Brand Mejuri Continues Ongoing Expansion with More Stores in Key Canadian Markets [Interview]

Calgary and Montreal are the latest cities to see openings for the popular jewellery brand which is looking to gain market share with a growing loyal client base.

RECENT RETAIL INSIDER VIDEOS

Advertisment

Subscribe to the Newsletter

RECENT articles

John Crombie Shares 6 Canadian Retail Trends to Watch for in 2023 [Interview]

Crombie, who's predictions usually come true, spoke at the ICSC Whistler Conference recently and discussed how retail in Canada is shifting as consumer habits change.

Video Interview: What Matters To Today’s Consumer in Canada

An expert talks about how consumers are looking for discounts and value, their concerns about their finances, how they are making fewer impulse buys and how they expect big companies to do good in society.

Major Condo Tower Rezoning Application Threatens a Block’s Worth of Toronto Restaurants

Developers say that they're responding to shifting urban trends, though only two small commercial spaces are proposed where a block of businesses currently operate.

Hudson’s Bay to Shut Londonderry Mall Store in Edmonton

The retailer will close one of its oldest locations in Alberta this summer as the retailer strategizes the future of its physical stores.

Toronto Six Professional Women’s Hockey Team Retail Presence Looks to Multi-channel Growth with On-Ice Success [Interview]

The President of women's professional hockey team the Toronto Six says that fans of teams are helping create a new revenue source.

Best Retailers for Customer Experience in Canada Ranked in Leger Study [Interview]

Thousands of Canadians were polled to determine which retailers came out on top, with some surprising findings.

Deciem Rebrands Many Stores as ‘The Ordinary’ as Company Shifts Focus and Retail Strategy [CEO Interview]

The popular beauty brand is refocusing some of its stores as 'The Ordinary' as Deciem grows its wholesale business with Sephora, and is also looking to launch new brands through its incubator engine.

Retailers Shifting Loyalty Programs to In-House as Businesses Drop Air Miles and Others [Interview]

An industry expert says that companies such as Starbucks have found success in its own loyalty programs, and consumer confusion with third-party programs is leading more retailers to develop their own.

‘Repair and Run’ Bike Maintenance Retail Concept Expanding to more Locations in Canada after Successful 1st Launch [Interview]

The bike repair business, founded by some of the people behind the launch and success of Mobile Klinik, is seeing success after opening its first store in 2021.

Earls to Launch New Restaurant Concept as Chain Expands Locations [Interview]

The Canadian chain is expanding its operations as consumers embrace in-person dining following the pandemic.

Canadians Should be Checking Receipts at the Grocery Store as Errors are Common [Op-Ed]

Sylvain Charlebois says that Canadians may not realize that the prices on the shelves and what's scanned might be different, and that there's sometimes an opportunity for compensation if there's been an error.

Retailer Bankruptcies Not as High as Expected in Canada Since Pandemic, but Uncertainty Persists: Insolvency Insider

The tsunami of business creditor protection filings didn't happen as predicted, but an expert says that a reduction of locations by some retailers as well as headwinds could lead to industry challenges.

Video Interview: How Red Tape Is Strangling Canadian Small Businesses

Laura Jones of CFIB talks about the impact of red tape on businesses across the country and why it's so important to their bottom line.

Italian Grocery-Restaurant Concept Lina’s Prepares to Open 15,000 sq ft Location in Calgary’s Inglewood [Photos/Interview]

The expanding business is based on the concept of an Italian public square or marketplace, making it a popular hub that has strong consumer loyalty.

Zellers to Launch Food Trucks in Effort to Drive Traffic to Bay Stores

The retailer has also all but confirmed the relaunch to the Zeddy teddy bear mascot as it prepares to open 25 locations inside of Hudson’s Bay stores this spring.

Cineplex Launches New ‘Junxion’ Entertainment Concept with Additional Canadian Locations Planned [Interviews]

The concept features movies, gaming, dining and live entertainment under one roof, with plans to roll it out to multiple Canadian markets this year as part of a growth strategy for Cineplex.

Queen Street West Retailers in Toronto Anxious about Metrolinx Ontario Line Construction [Interviews]

Construction has the community worried that they’ll experience a repeat of Eglinton line ‘nightmare’.

Ron White Marks 25th Anniversary of its Charity ‘Shoe Drive’ [Interview]

The Toronto-based brand, which has stores in the area, is taking in gently used footwear that still have life in them to give to those in need.

Supply Chain Issues for Canadian Retailers Expected into 2025: Expert

Various factors are contributing to ongoing challenges to coordinate the optimal availability of goods says Gary Newbury.

DTC Jewellery Brand Mejuri Continues Ongoing Expansion with More Stores in Key Canadian Markets [Interview]

Calgary and Montreal are the latest cities to see openings for the popular jewellery brand which is looking to gain market share with a growing loyal client base.