Corporations cut pandemic pay for essential workers even as pandemic continues
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, corporations are cutting pandemic pay for their frontline workers in order to boost profits for wealthy shareholders. At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, grocery store workers were among the cohort of people who were deemed essential since they could not retreat indoors during a health crisis. There was a public outcry to increase the wages of workers to at least a living wage, the very least for people who were risking their lives everyday. Major grocery store companies responded to public demands and increased workers’ compensation, or risked a blow to their brand image and reputation.
In March 2020, Loblaws, Metro and Sobey’s topped workers’ wages with an extra $2 pandemic pay, as a ‘commitment to employees and customers’. And now, three months on, even as the pandemic continues and just as people have become more or less used to this new normal, Loblaws, Metro, Save-on-Foods, and other stores are ending workers’ pandemic or hazard pay.
To say this is anything less than a slap in the face of workers would be a disservice to the labour movement. On the one hand, grocery stores and their CEOs have become richer during the pandemic; while on the other hand, and in complete contrast, millions of people are feeling the brunt of unemployment and an economic slump. Galen Weston, for example, owner of Loblaw Cos. and the third-richest person in the country, experienced a boost in his wealth as Loblaw saw a 11% jump in revenue. Similarly, Jim Pattison, owner of Save-on-Foods grocery chain and the sixth richest Canadian, has become half a billion richer since the start of the pandemic. Metro and Sobey’s, too, have followed suit and announced an end to the pandemic pay. It’s unconscionable for the corporate elite to be sitting atop absurd amounts of wealth, while frontline workers, contributing more to the economy, continue to work in stressful and hazardous conditions without fair compensation.
According to a new report by the Parliamentary Budget Office, the top 1% of Canadians own approximately the same amount of wealth as the poorest 80%. The richest 10% of Canada’s population own $5.3 trillion. In comparison to this grossly absurd number, 90% of Canadians own a megre 43.6% of total wealth.
The government, for their part, hasn’t mandated that the wages of frontline workers must indefinitely be topped up with hazard pay, until the pandemic is officially declared over. In the meantime and as the threat of Covid-19 continues, essential workers continue to risk their lives, while corporate executives and shareholders continue to collect greater profits.