"What we got...was highly-paid grocery executives insisting they did not collude, and then going on to say – remarkably – virtually the same thing over and over again"
Among the most odious of the mounting attacks on workers as the pandemic becomes the "new normal" was the decision by the major Canadian grocery retailers to end on June 13 the $2 an hour premium pay their employees were receiving. Had only one of the chains done it the considerable public blowback would have been focused exclusively on them.
Conveniently they all somehow came to the conclusion to take this step at exactly the same time.
At a public hearing of the House of Commons standing committee on industry, science and technology on Friday, July 10, wealthy executives from Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc. and Empire Co. Ltd. claimed the timing was a coincidence despite acknowledging that the companies and executives had emailed or called each other about it in the immediate days before the decision was made public.
This rather obviously stretches credulity. The testifying executives also did little to justify the wage slash itself, which occurs as profits at these stores are soaring and while the pandemic, and the challenging conditions and dangers it presents for workers, is far from over.
In a press release after the testimony Unifor President Jerry Dias said:
"As President of Loblaw, Sarah Davis took home $6.7 million and her company is making record profits. To see her sit there and talk about how much she respects the workers, but then cut their pay, it's disgusting. Retail workers deserve better, and Canadians expect better."
Today's appearance before the House Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology was a chance for the heads of Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys to show true respect for their workers, and admit they were wrong to cut pandemic pay last month.
"What we got instead was highly-paid grocery executives insisting they did not collude, and then going on to say – remarkably – virtually the same thing over and over again
The executives all admitted to exchanging 'courtesy emails' and 'courtesy calls' on pandemic pay, and yet insist there was no collusion. I look forward to the committee's ruling on that."
While the committee may well rebuke the executives neither the federal government nor any of the provincial governments, who have greater direct control over labour regulations and minimum wage legislation, appear to be willing to take legislative steps to force companies to pay living wages.
It remains necessary for workers and their organizations and supporters to continue to fightback and apply all available pressure to force the hand of governments and corporations.