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Canada is making grocery store executives explain why they’re cutting pandemic pay

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Canadian grocery store chains like Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro will soon have to explain why they are cutting back the raise they had previously granted to staff working in customer-facing positions during the pandemic.

As frontline employees in other industries started to receive hazard pay back in March due to the health and safety risks of performing their jobs during COVID-19, major supermarkets in Canada followed suit, increasing wages early on in the health crisis by about $2 an hour.

But, last week it was revealed that this temporary pay bump would be coming to an end soon despite the fact that the virus still looms and things haven’t returned to normal quite yet.

“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,” Loblaws — which owns  No Frills, the Real Canadian Superstore, Dominion, Shoppers Drug Mart and others — said in a statement to customers last Thursday.

The sentiment seems to be shared by the executives at Walmart, Metro and Empire Co., which owns Sobeys.

But, the federal government doesn’t agree and is now summoning representatives from the companies to justify their decision.

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Many Canadians don’t agree either and the move has sparked backlash for several reasons, including but not limited to the fact that profits for supermarkets have increased substantially compared with the same time last year, in part due to restaurants being closed and shoppers stocking up.

Unifor, the union representing tens of thousands of retail and grocery store workers in Canada, is now hosting a virtual rally to show its support for extending the premium not only for the duration of the pandemic but for good.

“The extra $2 an hour only began to make up for historic inequities in the industry and should not be taken away now or ever,” it said in a statement on June 18.

“These workers are no less at risk and are no less essential today than they were before or during the pandemic. There is no justification for cutting their pay.”

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