Politics

PM calls grocery store employees 'heroes' after grocery chains cancel pay bump

After several grocery store giants cancelled a $2 pay bump many frontline workers received during the pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says those who continued working to keep Canadian pantries full need to be properly supported.

Ottawa to keep strings attached to provincial stimulus package

When asked about grocery giants cutting the $2 pandemic pay bump for workers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians who have stepped up during the pandemic at the risk of their health and safety need to be properly supported and paid. 1:15

After several grocery store giants cancelled a $2 pay bump many frontline workers received during the pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that those who continue working to keep Canadian pantries full need to be properly compensated.

"As we've said since the beginning of the pandemic," the prime minister told a press conference in Chelsea, Que., "the people that step up in the midst of the most serious times to ensure that Canadians can still put food on the table, get the deliveries they need, that shelves are stocked [and] Canadians continue to be safe and fed, are heroes."

Loblaws, Metro and Walmart all provided $2 pay bumps for their workers during the pandemic. They announced last week that the pay raises would come to an end because store employees have adapted to the new normal and stores are no longer being overrun by customers.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canadians should continue to show gratitude to the workers in their local grocery stores. 

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canadians should not forget to be grateful to the grocery store workers who helped them put food on their tables during the pandemic. 2:26

"I hope that one of the things that this pandemic has taught us is that some of the people who do some of the work, which is most essential for our actual, our literal survival, are among the lowest paid people in our country," she said today.

Freeland said she's heard concerns that the financial supports the federal government has provided over the past months to unemployed or underemployed Canadians have diminished their incentive to return to work.

Grocery store chains asked to provide answers

"I think the fact that grocery stores now feel able to bring the wages back down suggests that there isn't a powerful disincentive to work out there," she said. "That is a reminder to all of us that supporting Canadian workers and supporting the Canadians that can't find jobs right now is a really essential thing to do."

Several groceries store companies are being called on to explain why they cancelled the $2 pay bump.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters during a stop in Chelsea, Quebec on Friday. 2:42

The House of Commons industry committee voted unanimously on Thursday to call several grocery store chains before members of Parliament to explain their decision to cancel the pay increase, the Globe and Mail reported.

Some provinces have created top-up programs or compensation packages to help Canadians who might be still struggling despite continuing to work.

The federal government has said it hopes to help provinces and territories support those workers and ensure local economies open safely.

Earlier this month, the federal government offered $14 billion to support the nation's regions.

Conditions apply to stimulus package 

While Canada's premiers have argued the money offered by the federal government should come without strings attached, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reaffirmed on Friday those funds come with conditions.

During a call earlier this month, the premiers said they were grateful for the money – earmarked for specific measures to help provinces reopen safely – but argued it isn't enough to meet the their needs and the $14 billion could be better spent without restrictions.

Measures required by the federal government include the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers and businesses.

The money is also being earmarked to support childcare services, increase assistance for the elderly, fund 10 days of sick pay for workers without benefits, help municipalities fund transit and community programs and shore up health care systems in the short term.

"We want to ensure that municipalities will not have to lay off workers, front line workers, in community centres," the prime minister said in French during the same press conference.

"... So yes, there will be some conditions, but we also are showing a lot of flexibility with respect to those goals because the provinces have different realities."

The prime minister said his government also expects provinces and territories to match some of those funds.

"We know there is a range of needs across the country of provinces in different situations, which is why we put forward flexibility," he said. "But at the same time, we expect the money that is allocated to go to help municipalities – which are in need right across the country – actually goes to help municipalities."

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