Metro and its Food Basics banner found itself in the spotlight about the issue of part-time work last week thanks to a CBC.ca article about an unhappy employee.
A night-time clerk at Food Basics regularly does 40-hour weeks, but is paid less than full-time employees, according to the story.
The article was a part of a series CBC is doing about potential changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. One of the changes would force employers to give part-timers the same wages as full-time workers.
"I would have no problem being paid less if I was doing less," the employee told CBC. "I'm working just as hard and the company expects me to come in and put in the same effort as a full-timer does for the time I'm there… and yet, chooses to pay me 30% less."
Metro told CBC it would not discuss “labour relations matters in the press.”
Tim Deelstra of UFCW Local 175, the union that represents more than 7,000 Food Basics workers across Ontario, confirmed to Canadian Grocer that part-timers are paid at a lower rate than full-timers, but are not supposed to be scheduled to work more than 24 hours a week.
If they work more than 24 hours for a period of 10 weeks they are supposed to be paid an additional $2 per hour. If they work 40 hours per week for 10 weeks the employer has to post for a full-time job. He said the employee in the CBC article hadn’t contacted the union.
Bruce Winder, co-founder and partner, Retail Advisors Network, told Canadian Grocer the growing dependence on part-time labour is happening in all types of retail, not only grocery. “The common denominator in retail is the easiest way to control costs is labour,” he said.
Winder said there is no easy solution to address the overreliance on part-time staffing. “In my opinion, if you are part-time you should earn the same as someone else. That is fair. An hour of work should be an hour of work,” he said. But, forcing employers to pay their part-time staff could also backfire on the government.
“I anticipate a dynamic whereby retailers lay off people,” he said. “Retailers cannot increase their labour costs… So what will happen is, rightly or wrongly, they will hire less people to make up for it.”
But Angelo DiCaro of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, said raising wages could improve the bottom line in the long run.
“Talk to supermarket workers in Ontario and you’ll hear the same refrain from many: I can’t afford to shop where I work,” he said. “To argue that raising part-time wages and creating full-time jobs, as some retailers like Metro have done, does more damage than good is preposterous. Putting money into the pockets of workers who will spend it is good for business.”
The Ontario government is also considering making it easier for workers to join and form unions.
Deelstra said one of the reasons employers feel pressure to squeeze part-timers is because they are competing against non-union workplaces. “Which is why we are trying to level the playing field by unionizing those non-union ,” he said. Even if, as is the case in the Food Basics contract, part-time workers are paid less than full-time workers, they are still paid “substantially better” than workers in non-union shops and receive better benefits, paid breaks and vacation time.
Ontario's Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the final report outlining proposed changes to Ontario’s workplace laws is still at least four weeks away.