Canadian supermarket chains are starting to cancel their $2-per-hour pay bumps for front-line staff, three months after implementing the wage increases as a way to entice employees to work in the middle of the pandemic.
All major Canadian grocery brands rolled out similar $2-per-hour premiums for their staff in March, as they contended with waves of frenzied panic buying and scrambled to retrofit their stores with sneeze shields and distance markers.
But in a note to staff on Thursday, Loblaw Cos. Ltd. — the biggest supermarket chain in Canada — said its stores and distribution centres have “settled into such a good rhythm.” As a result, Loblaw will return employee wages to pre-pandemic levels starting June 13.
“With this stability and with economies reopening we have decided the time is right to transition out of our temporary pay premium, put in place for 14 weeks to recognize your extraordinary efforts,” Loblaw president Sarah Davis told staff in her letter.
United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, a union representing thousands of grocery employees in the country, criticized decisions to roll back wages as premature.
“UFCW Canada is disappointed that employers in various sectors across Canada are choosing to stop paying COVID-19 premium pay while the pandemic continues, and some provinces are still enforcing precautionary measures,” the union said in a statement.
Loblaw said it discussed the coming change with UFCW, which represents most Loblaw employees, and agreed to spend $25 million to give an “additional one-time bonus” to each front-line worker, essentially softening the blow of a wage decrease.
The bonus will be two weeks’ worth of $2/hour bonuses. For example, employees who work an average of 80 hours every two weeks will get $160 in the final bonus.
Metro Inc., the third-largest grocer in Canada, also confirmed it would end the wage bonus on June 13, but will provide a final bonus of $200 for full-time staff and $100 bonus for part-time staff.
Walmart said it stopped its wage bonuses at the end of May, but had extended mental health coverage, added extra employee discount days and accelerated its normal revenue-based bonus structure for employees.
Empire Co. Ltd., the parent company of Sobeys and Safeway, did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
“After extending the premium multiple times, we are confident our colleagues are operating safely and effectively in a new normal,” Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston said in an open letter to customers on Thursday.