Why did grocery store execs cut pandemic pay? MPs invite them to explain
TORONTO -- Major grocery store executives who’ve seen profits skyrocket during the pandemic will be formally invited to be grilled before parliamentarians on their decision to cancel wage increases for front-line workers.
A motion to question the executives was brought forward by Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith in a Thursday afternoon committee meeting and passed unanimously 11-0, with support from Conservative and NDP MPs.
Erskine-Smith said the cross-party support is “reflective of the outrage of Canadians of all political stripes.”
“To see record profits and grocery store executives slash pandemic pay in the middle of pandemic, it doesn’t sit right,” he told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview Thursday.
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."
The motion was amended by NDP MP Brian Masse to include “any other witnesses” in the invitation.
Parliament does not have the power to force the executives to appear for questioning, and the motion only goes as far as to invite them to be questioned.
But Erskine-Smith said he expects the invitations will be accepted.
"I think they will. There is a general understanding in our society that parliamentary requests ought to be respected,” he said, adding that representatives for grocery store workers are also being invited to speak to MPs.
“I’ve heard many workers who want to see this proceeding more forward.”
CTV News reached out to Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys following the vote to ask if they plan to testify.
Loblaw said it takes the claims very seriously and will “welcome the chance to clarify the facts to the Committee, in particular that Loblaw acted independently and in accordance with competition law.”
“The temporary pay premium was never about safety, it was a recognition of extraordinary effort. Our stores are now operating at a normal pace, albeit in a new way. Importantly, we have invested far more in our colleagues and customers during this pandemic than we have earned in extra sales. Those investments will continue well into the future. We are not putting profit before people,” Loblaw said in a written statement.
Metro's Communication Manager, Geneviève Grégoire, declined to comment.
Sobeys has yet to respond.
All three companies had been paying their employees a premium for continuing to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping shelves stocked and people fed despite the personal risk they faced by working on the front lines.
But the extra pay recently ended. Last week, Loblaw's Chairman Galen Weston confirmed the extra two dollars per hour his employees had been receiving would be coming to an end.
Metro confirmed in an emailed statement sent to CTVNews.ca earlier this week that it is following suit, and will also be ending its pay premium for employees.
"We are no longer working under the crisis conditions that prevailed from March through May as grocers were amongst the only retailers open to the public. Demand is stabilizing as other businesses are reopening," Grégoire said in the email.
She noted that the company will be paying a $200 bonus to full-time employees, and $100 to part time staff, on July 2.
Sobeys also sent a letter to their employees on June 12 confirming their plans to end what they called their Hero Pay program.
Loblaw has seen its profits jump 21 per cent in the first quarter compared to the same time last year — an increase in net earning of $42 million over the first quarter of 2019.
Sobey's parent company, Empire Co. Ltd., said in an April 15 press release that it had seen a sales surge of 37 per cent in March. Metro also enjoyed a boost in sales, according to their own press release from April 22. In the first two weeks of March, Metro Inc. reportedly saw an estimated $125-million sales increase.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Rachel Gilmore and CTV News Toronto's Joshua Freeman