Grocery giants called to testify before MPs over ending employee wage top-ups for COVID-19

From online orders, to curbside pickup and home delivery - the way many people are buying groceries has changed drastically in a short period of time. Sarah Ryan explores whether the shift is permanent or only temporary.

Three Canadian grocery giants that pulled out of a temporary wage top-up program for frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic have been called to explain their decision to MPs.

In a unanimous vote, the 11-member House of Commons industry committee agreed to call Loblaw Companies, Metro and Empire Co. — owner of Sobeys, Safeway and FreshCo — to testify on why they cancelled the bonus pay for employees on the same day last week.

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Loblaws, Metro to end COVID-19 wage top-up for employees

The $2 per hour wage increase, which Empire called “Hero Pay,” was introduced in mid-March by Canada’s largest grocery chains as an extra incentive for employees to keep coming into work as the COVID-19 pandemic began seriously spreading across the country.

Loblaws’ executive chairman Galen Weston said at the time it was introduced that the program was “in recognition of their outstanding and ongoing efforts keeping our stores open and operating so effectively.”

With the coronavirus a part of Canadians’ lives for more than three months, Loblaws stores and distribution centres “have settled into a good rhythm,” wrote Sarah Davis, Loblaws president, in an email to workers sent on June 11 and obtained by the Canadian Press.

“With this stability and economies re-opening, we have decided the time is right to transition out of our temporary pay premium.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers union, however, said in a statement it is “disappointed” with employers choosing to stop their extra pay practices when the pandemic is not over and some provinces still have various precautionary measures in place.

READ MORE:
Wage boosts for essential workers should last beyond COVID-19 pandemic: union leaders

“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.”

Unifor called the elimination of COVID-19 bonus pay “wrong” and suggested the higher wages be a permanent change at the chain.

“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,” Jerry Dias, Unifor National president, wrote in a statement.

“There is no justification for ending pandemic pay now, or ever.”

Global News has reached out to Loblaws, Metro and Empire Co. for comment on the House of Commons committee’s vote.

—With files from the Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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