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 the pay bump of an extra $2 an hour they put in place in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Metro, Loblaws and Walmart will halt pay bump implemented in March

Grocery chains were overrun in the early days of the pandemic as customers stockpiled items. Now, things are getting back to normal enough to prompt some of the biggest chains to take back temporary pay bumps they had given to employees. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

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 including some at Loblaws and Metro, 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.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement it is "disappointed" with employers choosing to stop their extra pay practices while the pandemic is still active and some provinces still have various precautionary measures in place.

"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."

Weston — the scion of the third-richest family in Canada, worth roughly $13 billion at last count — 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."

With files from The Canadian Press

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