Sobeys reinstates lockdown bonuses for workers, but labour expert says more could be done

·3 min read
Paul LaFleur stocks shelves at Sobeys in Edmonton. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Paul LaFleur stocks shelves at Sobeys in Edmonton. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Sobeys, one of the country's largest grocery retailers, is offering employees in Nova Scotia a lockdown bonus.

One labour expert says it is a step in the right direction, but that more needs to be done for grocery employees on the front lines.

Sobeys said in an email to CBC that it would offer the bonus until the end of the most recent lockdown or as long as the company deems necessary.

Last year, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, grocers such as Metro, Loblaws and Empire increased wages of employees, calling it hero pay.

Bonus up to $100 per week

Sobeys said in its email that the more an employee works during the lockdown the more they can earn, ranging from $10 to $100 per week. If an employee works 40 hours a week, they will receive a $100 bonus that week.

Karim Bardeesy, an advisory board member with the Centre for Labour Management Relations at Ryerson University, said the bonus is helpful, but organizations like big grocery chains could do more for employees who put themselves on the front lines,

"In general, hourly wages for some of this essential work aren't high enough to allow a livable life for the families of these workers, and the wages don't tend to recognize how important this work is," said Bardeesy.

Bardeesy has some advice for employees who think they are not getting paid as much as they should for putting themselves at risk.

Karim Bardeesy says a lockdown bonus is a good thing, but wages should be increased during times like these.
Karim Bardeesy says a lockdown bonus is a good thing, but wages should be increased during times like these.(Jenna Muirhead)

"At those grocery stores which are unionized, they [employees] can and should be advocating for higher wages, and using the rights that they have under those collective agreements, including the right to strike, which they have under provincial labour laws," he said.

While Sobeys' operations in Quebec are mostly unionized, operations in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Western Canada are largely without union representation.

Sobeys told CBC that reinstating this lockdown bonus is "fundamentally, the right thing to do."

Bardeesy said grocery retailers have seen jumps in profits during the pandemic so it's only fair to redistribute some of this profit to employees.

"These retailers are quite fortunate that their workers have stepped up to do the work in dangerous circumstances and not always been recognized through payment," he said.

Bardeesy said students at Ryerson have been writing letters to the provincial labour minister calling for better paid sick leave plans.

The province of Ontario recently announced a paid sick leave plan but Bardeesy said it's not as strong as it could be.

He said big grocery chains have a responsibility to the public to do right by their employees.

"These regional chains have a lot of power and they need to use that in the best interest not only of their shareholders but of their workers and the public."

In an emailed statement Friday, Loblaw Companies Ltd. said it was also is planning to provide bonuses, though they aren't tied to lockdowns.

"Today, Loblaw (Atlantic Superstore) wanted to extend another 'thank you' with an appreciation bonus for all full- and part-time colleagues in company stores and distribution centres. Bonuses will be paid in June.

"All of these benefits — paid time off for vaccinations, pay protection, appreciation bonuses and extra discounts — will be rolled out nationally to corporate stores and distribution centres, whether the region is in lockdown or not."