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Ford government scrapping plans to reduce holidays for front line retail workers: union

Last Updated Jun 19, 2020 at 1:33 pm EDT

A women leaves a grocery store on Thursday, August 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

The union which represents 20,000 retail workers across the province says the Ford government has made an about-face when it comes to reducing holidays for front line workers.

Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi told CityNews the government was planning to reduce the number of mandatory statutory holidays from nine days to three – Christmas, Good Friday and Canada Day – as part of a two-year pilot project to help retailers recover from the economic effects of COVID-19.

Rizvi said they were opposed to the proposal as those nine days are often the only guaranteed time off for most workers.

On Friday, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said he spoke with both Premier Doug Ford and Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, who confirmed they would not be making changes the Retail Business Holidays Act.

Dias says when he heard about the plan he was outraged and thought it was “completely inconsistent” with Ford’s statements about the contribution of retail workers.

“That was the ultimate slap in the face to the workers that have done so much, I couldn’t believe that anyone would be so foolish to even contemplate this during the pandemic,” he said. “We had a very short conversation where (Ford) told me they were killing it in its tracks.”

Loblaws, Metro, Walmart and Sobeys recently ended pandemic pay increases for their employees, something Dias says they are continuing to oppose through their effort to make fair pay permanent.

“Coming just days after their pay was cut by major grocers, the possibility that they would lose their statutory holidays just added insult to injury,” he said. “The pay cuts are still in place and shows that we must remain constantly vigilant to stand up for the rights of all workers.”

Loblaws announced last week in an email sent to workers that it has “decided the time is right to transition out of our temporary pay premium,” wrote company president Sarah Davis, noting its stores and distribution centres “have settled into a good rhythm” and provinces are re-opening their economies.

The company started paying a $2-per-hour bonus, or about 15 per cent more, on March 8 when the pandemic first started having a serious impact in Canada. It will stop the bonus pay Saturday.

Metro, which also started paying a $2 premium March 8, will end its bonus pay on Saturday as well, wrote communications manager Genevieve Gregoire in an email.

Walmart Canada paid workers an extra $2 hourly in April and May, as well as a one-time bonus, wrote Adam Grachnik, director of corporate affairs, in an email. Pay returned to regular rates in June.

Empire Co., which owns the Sobeys and Safeway brands, launched what it called “a temporary Hero Pay Program” March 8 across its stores and distribution centres, according to an April 15 business update. All employees received an extra $50 weekly, while those working more than 20 hours per week also saw a $2 hourly wage increase.

An online rally is planned for Friday at 1 p.m. in support of grocery store workers.