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Some of Canada's largest grocery chains are scaling back on pay premiums for front-line retail workers instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic, a move Canada's largest private-sector union opposes.

On Thursday, both Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Metro Inc. said they will end the temporary pay bonuses this Saturday. Walmart Inc. ended its bonuses on May 31. All three companies had paid an extra $2 per hour to staff working during the crisis.

“Things have now stabilized in our supermarkets and drug stores,” Loblaw chairman Galen Weston wrote in a letter to customers, saying that staff have adjusted to “the new normal” and that this is an appropriate time to end its bonus.

Metro, which also instituted the pay premiums in March, also said on Thursday that it will cease doing so this weekend.

“We are no longer working under the crisis conditions that prevailed from March through May as grocers were amongst the only retailers open to the public,” Metro spokesperson Marie-Claude Bacon said in a statement Thursday. “...A host of prevention measures have been implemented and adopted, by both employees and customers, and we are now transitioning into recovery while not letting our guard down.”

Both Metro and Loblaw also announced they would pay an additional one-time bonus to workers. Metro announced the bonus would be $100 for each part-time worker and $200 for each full-time worker. Loblaw plans to pay out a total of $25-million in one-time bonuses that will vary depending on average hours worked over the past 14 weeks. Walmart moved up its usual yearly bonuses, which typically are based on the company’s annual results, and instead were paid out in April and totaled $16-million.

Unifor, which represents 20,000 workers in the retail and wholesale sector -- including some Loblaw employees -- said in a release that there is no justification to cut pandemic pay. The union criticized Loblaw in a statement on Thursday, and argued that grocery retail staff are still at risk.

Unifor voiced its support for protective measures such as physical distancing in grocery stores. The union is pushing for retailers to make their pay increases permanent.

"The fact is, the pandemic did not make these workers essential and did not create the inequities in retail, it simply exposed them," Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in the statement, adding that retail workers often work more than one part-time job.

"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," Mr. Dias said.

Unifor is currently negotiating with Loblaw-owned Dominion stores in Newfoundland and Labrador after the stores cut 20 per cent of their full-time positions last year. The union said Loblaw has increasingly relied on part-time workers and opposed raising the minimum wage.

In his letter, Mr. Weston said he is a “strong believer in a progressive minimum wage” and said he would support government policies “to establish a living wage.”

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