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Coronavirus: Dollarama workers in Montreal demand health be put above profits

Dollarama workers hold up signs during a protest calling for better pay and working conditions in Montreal, Saturday, June 13, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Graham Hughes / The Canadian Press

Dollarama employees and supporters protested in Montreal on Saturday to demand better health and safety measures to fight COVID-19.

Mostafa Henaway of the Centre for Immigrant Workers, the organizer of the demonstration, alleges that behind the walls of its warehouses and its distribution centre, the Quebec retailer is content with the bare minimum and sometimes even violates the law.

In particular, Mr. Henaway said that physical distance is almost impossible to respect in the distribution centre, where nearly 1,000 workers work side by side. Employees are constantly on the move, passing around boxes, there is only one bathroom and break room, he said.

Protesters say, “in its haste to make a profit”, Dollarama completely ignored the health risks during the first weeks of the pandemic.

READ MORE: Shopping malls in the greater Montreal region to reopen on June 19

“The company has prioritized money, leaving aside the health and safety of its workers,” they wrote in a statement.

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The retailer was designated an essential service at the start of the pandemic, which enabled it to exceed analysts’ expectations and make a profit of nearly $86 million in the first quarter, according to data released this week in the wake of the general meeting of its shareholders.

According to the protesters, Dollarama should continue to pay them an additional $3/hour when the pandemic is over.

Dismissals

Several employees who complained about working conditions in the context of COVID-19 were dismissed outright, protesters say, so that a climate of fear prevails in the company’s facilities.

One of them, Aines Charles, despite his 10 years of service, is said to have been dismissed after having indicated to a supervisor the presence of numerous cases of COVID-19 among his colleagues.

Management then asked the employment agency that employed him to terminate his employment, according to protesters.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Opinions mixed among Montreal shoppers on COVID-19 safety measures

Another was also reportedly removed from the ranks of the company for calling for more protective measures.

“I was called to the office the same day and terminated my contract after three years of work,” said the statement.

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Employees said that their employers should hire them directly, rather than recruiting them through placement agencies.

False allegations

Dollarama declined the Canadian Press’ request for an interview.

In a statement sent by email, the company said it had taken “all necessary measures” to protect its employees and that the organizers are only making “allegations”, which are “false”.

The retailer even doubts that its employees participate in the demonstration.

“We have not received any direct communication to the effect that agency workers are dissatisfied with their conditions in our establishments,” writes spokesperson Lyla Radmanovich.

The Canadian Press has however noted that employees of the company were among the demonstrators.

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