As the Omicron wave leaves many stores short-staffed and people stocking up, retail employees claim the refusal of Canadian supermarkets to implement “hero pay” has left them feeling neglected and unloved.
Several grocery shop employees claim that business is booming, with more employees reporting sick in the previous two weeks than during the whole pandemic.
Customers are also “cleaning the shelves” and stocking up on food, according to them, which increases store workload.
Tammy Laporte, who works full-time in a grocery store, says the last two years have been the most difficult of her 23-year career.
She says it’s a “never-ending struggle” to keep the store running smoothly while adhering to increased cleaning requirements and enforcing public health measures.
Laporte says the decision by grocery chains not to bring back the $2-an-hour pay bump is “insulting.”
“It made us feel appreciated,” she said of the pay premium Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys offered workers during the first wave of COVID-19.
“It made us feel like the employer cared, and like they understood the risks we were facing.”
Despite working with a major grocer for more than two decades as a full-time employee, Laporte says the pandemic bonus brought her pay “to the edge of a living wage” for the first time.
“The $2-an-hour increase may not seem like a lot but at the end of the day, it made a big difference.”
Meanwhile, Laporte says gift cards weren’t as helpful, as they were taxable and ended up actually reducing paycheques.
Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
While the grocers did offer a mix of bonuses, gift cards or other benefits during subsequent waves of the pandemic, none appear to be offering any additional pay as a result of the Omicron surge.
When regions or provinces revert to lockdowns that close all non-essential retail, Sobeys has pledged to reinstate its “hero pay.”
Karen Lobb, who has worked in a grocery store for 27 years, believes that workers would enjoy recognition of the dangers they confront on a daily basis.
“They took away the bonus, but COVID never left,” she explained. “We’ve never shut down or halted.”
“We’re short-staffed,” Lobb continued, “and some of us are working longer hours to compensate.” It would be good to be recognized.”