Canada: Supermarket retailers should focus on economic upside of minimum wage hike

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In response to statements made by Loblaw and Metro, about the cost impact of Ontario’simpending minimum wage hike, Unifor says big, profitable grocery retailers are probably best positioned to absorb the increase and could realize economic gains.

«Instead of viewing the boost to Ontario’s minimum wage as an economic opportunity, these companies have chosen to focus public attention only on labour costs with its investors and the public. That is incredibly disappointing,» said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.


Unifor estimates the anticipated minimum wage increases will positively affect 70 per cent of its members at Metro banner stores, as well as 90 per cent of members under Metro’s Food Basics and Loblaws’ No Frills banners – a disproportionate number of whom are women, working as clerks and cashiers. This increase will boost part-time workers income by as much as $80 per week, based on a 24-hour work week.

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Unifor Local 414 President Christine Connor, a Metro worker herself, predicts that a significant share of this new income will be spent back in the stores directly.  «Many of our lowest-paid members simply can’t afford to shop where they work. Some are forced to use food banks. This increase will not only drive more traffic to stores, it’s the socially responsible thing to do, and they need to get behind it.»

Metro CEO Eric La Fleche, who spoke publicly about various efforts to mitigate the added costs – including automation – himself earned a base salary in 2016 of $869,000. His total compensation package for the year was nearly $4 million – which is equivalent to the full-year salary of 285 part-time workers at minimum wage, working their full complement of hours.

Last year, Loblaw CEO Galen Weston Jr. took home a total compensation package of $7.5 million – equivalent to the salaries of 527 part-time workers.

«It is very difficult to take seriously the claims of these richly rewarded corporate CEOs, complaining about higher wages for their employees – who are the drivers of their business,» said Unifor National Retail Director Keith Osborne.

«No business should be built on a model that contributes to working poverty in this country,» said Unifor Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi.  «All employers – especially those in the low-wage retail industry – have a responsibility to step up efforts to improve living standards.»

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, with 310,000 members across the country. Unifor Local 414 represents more than 10,000 supermarket workers in Ontario, including nearly 8,000 at Metro.


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