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Canada’s Ag ministers to launch probe into grocery store fees on suppliers

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On Friday, the bureau released a statement clarifying its position on wage fixing and other “buy-side agreements” — meaning agreements between competitors that drive down the cost on the inputs that businesses buy, such as labour, rather than what they sell.

The bureau felt compelled to put out the statement on Friday in light of “recent public concerns in Canada about potential agreements between employers related to wages,” spokesperson Marcus Callaghan said in an email.

The bureau has seen increased interest in the issue from the legal and business communities and wanted to provide “clarity and transparency,” Callaghan said.

The guidance came two days after bureau commissioner Matthew Boswell broke his silence on the grocery chains’ removal of pandemic pay.

In an address to a conference of independent grocers on Wednesday, he voiced concern that top executives at rival grocery chains had held discussions before cutting the pay.

Metro chief executive Eric La Flèche testified at a House of Commons hearing this summer that he placed several calls to competitors in May and June to ask if they were planning to cut the $2-per-hour wage increase.

At the same hearing,  Loblaw president Sarah Davis said she had sent a “courtesy email” to competitors about her decision to cut the bonus on June 13, the same day as Metro and Sobeys’ parent company Empire Co. Ltd. All of the companies have strongly denied any wrongdoing.

Empire chief executive Michael Medline said he insisted on having legal counsel on the call with La Flèche and refused to answer the question on pandemic pay. Empire has started paying bonuses again, based on hours worked, for staff working regions now under lockdown orders, including Manitoba, Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region.

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