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Grocers raise wages in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys are among the grocery chains taking important steps to protect their staff

With grocery store workers now playing an essential role in Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys are all giving employees $2 wage increases and are taking other steps to protect staff at a challenging time.

READ: Dollarama, Walmart boost employee pay in light of COVID-19

On Saturday all three of the big grocers announced increases would be coming retroactive to March 8. Giant Tiger and Whole Foods also said they would give their employees a raise of $2 per hour.

READ: How Canadian grocery is dealing with COVID-19

The increases come as Canada moves into its second week of what will almost certainly be record sales numbers, as concerned Canadians stock up in order to stay home for extended periods of time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Unlike so many businesses across the country right now, our supermarkets and pharmacies are performing well,” said Loblaw CEO Galen Weston in an email to members of the company's PC Optimum loyalty program. “And the leaders in our business wanted to make sure that a significant portion of that benefit would go straight into the pockets of the incredible people on the frontline and in our distribution centres.”

READ: Galen Weston on Loblaw’s COVID-19-related changes

While the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents more than 90,000 employees at all Loblaw banners, said the increase amounted to $2 per hour, Weston described it as a 15% increase to wages.

READ: Canadians concerned about COVID-19, but panic buying not as widespread as reports suggest

Sobeys and Metro both said the increases were temporary until the end of April and May 2, respectively. Loblaw did not indicate an end date.

“It is important to recognize the remarkable efforts of our employees and ensure that they have peace of mind during this exceptional period,” said Metro CEO Eric La Flèche in a statement on Sunday. Aside from the $2 per hour wage increase, Metro is offering 95% of their wages if they are in isolation and introducing an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP).

“The service, which will be available until May 2, is confidential and provides support and advice if you are facing difficulties at work, at home, managing your finances, etc. In a period of stress and uncertainty, this service can help you,” said Metro in a release.

Sobeys program is slightly more complicated. All employees, regardless of hours worked, will get an extra $50 a week. Anyone working more than 20 hours a week will also receive an extra $2 per hour. Sobeys also said it was hiring part-time staff and would offer top-up programs for employees in self-quarantine or helping dependents and children.

“We are humbled by the efforts our teammates are making each and every day, as they continue to step and support the needs of our neighbours,” said CEO Michael Medline in a statement posted to the grocery chain's Twitter account Sunday afternoon.

All three grocers also started adding plexiglass barriers at checkout to provide an extra layer of protection for cashiers dealing directly with customers.


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