A plexiglass barrier is pictured creating a barrier to protect a cashier at a grocery store in North Vancouver, B.C. Sunday, March 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A plexiglass barrier is pictured creating a barrier to protect a cashier at a grocery store in North Vancouver, B.C. Sunday, March 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

A group representing retailers across Canada isn’t happy that retail workers deemed essential during the COVID-19 crisis are ineligible for pandemic pay.

“We were very disappointed, especially after the prime minister specified grocery and pharmacy workers,” said Greg Wilson, director of government relations for Retail Council of Canada said.

A top-up for essential workers was announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on May 7, although details were left up to each province and territory.

Later that same day, B.C. announced that 250,000 frontline workers would be eligible for the top-up, doled out as a lump-sum payment through employers. The province said it will amount to an extra $4 per hour for up to 16 weeks of work, retroactive to March 15. In B.C., only workers in corrections, social services and health services are eligible for the top-up.

READ MORE: ‘Pandemic pay’ to give temporary wage top-up to 250,000 B.C. front-line workers

Speaking by phone to Black Press Media Tuesday (May 26), Wilson said essential workers at grocery, hardware and other stores that have remained open during the pandemic should be getting compensation. Essential workers who quit are not eligible for the $500 per week Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

These “essential workers have kept economy going and kept Canadians fed,” Wilson noted.

“They are ealing with a customer base and employees who are also more anxious.”

READ MORE: Post-COVID grocery store sales high but below the mid-March peak, StatCan says

In a statement, the finance ministry said pandemic pay increases were meant for health and social service workers who are supporting the most vulnerable during COVID-19.

“Grocery stores are able to keep their employees safe and healthy by following social distancing guidelines. Many are doing well financially through COVID and passing benefits on to employees, which is something we all should be doing if we can.”

READ MORE: B.C. issues guidelines about distancing, reusable bags to grocery stores amid COVID-19

Although some retailers have announced pay top-ups, including Save-On Foods and Loblaws, they are beginning to phase out the programs. According to the union representing Save-On Foods, the company is ending its $2 per hour top-up. Loblaws’ program has been extended to June 13, while Walmart ended its top-up at the end of April. Black Press Media has reached out to the companies for more details.

Wilson said that even disregarding the corporate pay top ups, there’s another issue at play.

“A lot of British Columbians have jobs working for small independent retail businesses, including fish mongers and small shops,” he said.

“Those owners have been really pressed financially, just to survive. To imagine they’d have the ability to top people up would be unthinkable.”

In response, the finance ministry said B.C.’s COVID-19 Action Plan provided $5 billion in income supports, although many do not target small retailers specifically. The $ billion plan includes employer health deferrals for businesses with a payroll of more than $500,000, while smaller businesses were already exempt from the tax, which replaced the Medical Services Plan. Tax filing deadlines for the provincial sales tax (PST), municipal and regional district tax, tobacco tax, motor fuel tax and carbon tax have also been delayed until Sept. 30.

Increases scheduled for April 1 for the provincial carbon tax, new PST registration requirements for e-commerce and the increased tax on sweetened carbonated drinks will be delayed until at least this fall.

Aside from B.C.’s effort, small businesses are also eligible for the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program if they have lost at least 70 per cent of their revenue, as well as for an interest-free loan of up to $40,000, part of which can be forgiven. The wage subsidy is available to help cover 75 per cent, or up to $847 each week.

READ MORE: Here’s what B.C.’s COVID-19 plan has for you


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The westbound lanes of Highway 1 between Clearbrook and McCallum roads was closed to traffic Wednesday morning after a fatal collision involving a pedestrian.
Pedestrian dies after being struck by vehicle on Highway 1 in Abbotsford

Collision takes place early Wednesday morning between Clearbrook and McCallum roads

DriveBC photo.
Westbound Highway 1 lanes in Abbotsford closed as crews investigate serious crash

Crash occurred between McCallum and Clearbrook roads at around 4 a.m., next update at 8 a.m.

A heavy police presence was on scene on Dec. 28, 2017 following the shooting death on Bates Road in Abbotsford of Alexander Blanarou, 24, of Surrey. (Abbotsford News file photo)
Three men charged with Abbotsford shooting death of Surrey man

Alexander Blanarou, 24, was killed in a rural area on Dec. 28, 2017

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Hit-and-run driver knocks pedestrian into ditch in Abbotsford

Woman was walking in area of Harris Road and Riverside Street on Monday

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Haley Callison. (Facebook photo)
Former B.C. pro hockey player frustrated with COVID-deniers after horrific bout with virus

Haleigh Callison hopes people will follow precautions and tone down the rhetoric

FILE – A near empty waterfront train platform is pictured in downtown Vancouver, Monday, April 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
TransLink disables some services for second day due to ‘suspicious network activity’

Customers cannot use credit card or debit card at fare gates or Compass card vending machines

A man stands in the window of an upper floor condo in Vancouver on March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Change made to insurance for B.C. condo owners amid rising premiums

Council CEO Janet Sinclair says the change will mean less price volatility

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

Mirandy Tracy, left, and Tara Kurtz are two Langley mothers who are organizing a "sick out" for Tuesday, Dec. 1 to protest COVID conditions in schools. They're calling for masks and smaller class sizes, among other things. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
Politician, labour leader throw support behind student Sick Out day

Langley parents started the movement to keep kids home on Dec. 1 as a protest

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read