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'Hero' grocery store workers should get 'properly' paid, PM says
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says those front-line workers who have stepped up to help put food on Canadians’ tables deserve to be fairly compensated for their work, even as the economy reopens and public health restrictions are lifted.
Trudeau was responding to news that major grocery chain executives will be called to a House committee to testify about removing a modest pay increase to employees on the COVID-19 frontlines.
Trudeau called these workers the "heroes" of the pandemic, alongside healthcare workers.
"We need to make sure that people who’ve stepped up to help Canadians, often at question of their own health and safety, continue to be supported and respected," he said during his morning address to reporters on Friday, this time in Chelsea, Quebec.
"[We] expect that people who’ve stepped up during this time be properly supported and paid for it."
Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys had increased employeess' wages by an extra two dollars per hour during the pandemic. On June 11, all three announced an end to the payment boost.
"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," Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston said in a company statement.
"Things have now stabilized in our supermarkets and drug stores. After extending the premium multiple times, we are confident our colleagues are operating safely and effectively in a new normal."
When the motion was brought forward by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith in a Thursday afternoon committee meeting, it passed unanimously 11-0, with support from Conservative and NDP MPs.
The motion asks that the committee invite "representatives from Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc. and Empire Company Ltd. to explain their decision to cancel, on the same day, the modest increase in wages for front-line grocery store workers during the pandemic, including how those decisions are consistent with competition laws."
During an interview on CTV’s Power Play this week, Erskine-Smith noted that grocery stores are among the few businesses that have seen profits increase during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We’ve seen record profits from all three of these chains, double-digit percentages over 20, over 20 per cent increases in profits for these companies over the course of the pandemic," he said.
"So the idea they’d say ‘here’s your two dollar wage increase essential workers and oh, by the way, it’s going to last for a short period of time, we as executives are going to enjoy our profits’ is really frustrating to see."
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland echoed Trudeau’s remarks, saying she hopes the pandemic has enhanced awareness that, often, the most relied-upon workers are also the most underpaid.
"I think the coronavirus has taught us how much we depend on them," she said on Friday. "I do think that it behooves us all, including employers, not to forget that lesson."
As an aside, she added the move is proof there isn’t a disincentive to work, despite what critics have said about the government’s support programs hampering the motivation of Canadians to find jobs.
The committee can summon the representatives should they decline the initial invite.
With a file from CTV News' Graham Slaughter