Grocery chains scrap $2 hourly pay bump for workers implemented at start of COVID-19

Grocery chains Loblaws and Metro, as well as Walmart, have decided to stop giving their workers an extra $2 an hour pay bump they put in place in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loblaws announced the decision in a letter to members of its loyalty program PC Optimum on Thursday.

“As the economy slowly reopens and Canadians begin to return to work, we believe it is the right time to end the temporary pay premium we introduced at the beginning of the pandemic,” chairman Galen Weston said.

Loblaws brands include Shoppers Drug Mart, Superstore and No Frills.

Metro, which owns Food Basics, Jean Coutu, Metro and other brands, confirmed to CBC News in an email on Friday that it, too, plans to phase out its $2 hourly pay bump.

“Our employees have done and continue to do a tremendous job,” spokesperson Geneviève Grégoire said. “Their dedication to our communities was true before the pandemic and we are convinced it will remain true thereafter.”

Bonuses coming

Walmart Canada also gave its workers a $2 per hour pay bump for April and May, and confirmed to CBC News in an email that those payments will now be stopped. But the company said it is adding enhanced support for its workers through things like tele-health services, mental health support and counselling, as well as increased discounts on purchases on top of the discounts they regularly receive.

Other major Canadian grocery chains, Longo’s and Sobey’s, did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to whether or not they will scrap their pay increases.

While ending the hourly pay bump, Loblaws and Metro plan to disburse one final bonus to workers next month. Metro will pay full-time staff an extra $200 on their July 2 paycheque, while part-timers will get $100. Loblaws workers can expect a $160 bonus next month pro-rated to a 40-hour work week.

The two chains and others implemented the pay bump to workers in March as panic buying in the early stages of lockdowns had many stores struggling to keep items on the shelves.

“Things have now stabilized in our supermarkets and drugstores,” Weston said. “After extending the premium multiple times, we are confident our colleagues are operating safely and effectively in a new normal.”

Union disappointed

Unifor, the union that represents 20,000 retail workers across Canada, was disappointed with the move.

“The fact is, the pandemic did not make these workers essential and did not create the inequities in retail, it simply exposed them,” Unifor president Jerry Dias said.

Labour groups have long argued that retail workers don’t get paid enough to begin with, and hoped to make the recent pay increases permanent.

“We have a chance to fix this. We can’t let this opportunity pass,” Dias said.

Weston — the scion of the third-richest family in Canada, worth roughly $9 billion — said in the letter that he is “a strong believer in a progressive minimum wage and would support any government-led effort to establish a living wage.”


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