Dollarama workers in Montreal are demanding higher pay and better working conditions after the retailer ended its temporary coronavirus pay boost earlier this month.
Employees at Dollarama stores received a 10 per cent wage increase at the end of March while warehouse workers saw a $3 raise, resulting in hourly pay of between $14.40 and $16.10 instead of Quebec’s minimum wage of $13.10.
Dollarama and several other retailers started their so-called pandemic pay programs as COVID-19 began to spread throughout Canada, sparking unprecedented working conditions amid a shopping frenzy that left some store shelves bare as companies scrambled to restock some products.
The company stopped the pay premiums on Aug. 2 after extending them for a month and a half beyond the initially anticipated end date.
Despite Dollarama’s efforts to ramp up health measures amid the pandemic, it is not possible to maintain physical distancing inside its Montreal warehouse, said organizers for a demonstration in Montreal on Thursday afternoon. Hundreds of employees clock in and out at the same time, and work on the same floor, they said.
The distribution centre is staffed primarily by immigrants and asylum seekers employed through temporary placement agencies, leaving already vulnerable workers in a more precarious position, they said.
Dollarama said it continues to adhere to strict COVID-19 health and safety protocols across its operations, developing them in collaboration with government agencies at the outset of the pandemic.
“The repeatedly recycled claims being made by these third parties regarding Dollarama’s working conditions and response to the pandemic are 100 per cent false and unfounded,” spokeswoman Lyla Radmanovich wrote in an email.
“Pay scales for our workforce continue to be competitive — both in stores and in our logistics chain — and have evolved throughout the course of the pandemic, dictated by market conditions.”
Canada’s three major grocers — Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc, and Empire Co. Ltd. — also halted their temporary pandemic pay bonuses simultaneously in mid-June.
The news sparked a backlash with unions representing some of the workers pushing back against the decision saying the pandemic was not over. Unifor National called for the increased pay to be made permanent.
A parliamentary committee hearing last month saw executives from the three grocery chains face questions over their cancellation of the $2-per-hour wage increase, which was implemented in March.
The grocers have said they stopped the programs as the COVID-19 situation stabilized at their stores and distribution centres. Loblaw also indicated it was no longer benefiting financially from the pandemic despite increased sales as it invested hundreds of millions of dollars into safety measures.
Dollarama reported a year-over-year sales boost of two per cent to $844.8 million and a nearly 17 per cent drop in net earnings to $86.1 million in the quarter ended June 30.