Grocery stores across the country are making changes to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to care for their staff who are working through the outbreak. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)

Grocery stores hiring more staff, offer wage boost as B.C. adapts to COVID-19 buying habits

Companies make changes to protect staff, customers during the outbreak

As COVID-19 spreads, grocery stores across the country are offering wage increases to employees, hiring temporary workers to keep up with demand and reserving exclusive shopping hours for the most vulnerable members of the community.

Wage increases for frontline store workers

On Friday, March 20, Save-On-Foods announced that employees working through the COVID-19 pandemic will receive a wage increase of $2 per hour dating back to March 8.

According to a written statement from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) 1518 labour union, this retroactive pay bump will be doled out weekly and “is in recognition of grocery workers’ heroic efforts to keep the public fed, to get them their needed medical supplies and prescriptions, and to help keep them safe during this pandemic.”

READ ALSO: Save-On-Foods temporarily bans reusable shopping bags, suspends bottle returns

The UFCW statement was updated to include that PriceSmart Foods and Urban Fare – subsidiaries of the Overwaitea Food Group which owns Save-On-Foods – had also announced a $2/hour wage increase.

Whole Foods Market also announced that employees in Canada and the U.S. will also receive a $2 wage increase through April and those who work overtime will be paid double their regular wage from March 16 through to May 3. Any staff needing to be quarantined will receive up to two extra weeks of paid time off.

READ ALSO: ‘I’m profoundly disappointed,’ Horgan says of COVID-19 panic buying

Employment Insurance top-ups for grocery store staff

Also on Friday, UFCW 1518 issued a statement announcing that Safeway and Sobey’s employees – members of UFCW 247 – would be receiving Employment Insurance top-ups if placed on a 14-day quarantine or self-isolation or if staff members need to take time off with their children or dependents.

Those placed of mandatory quarantine after travelling internationally will receive a top-up to 95 per cent of their annual salary and those on self-quarantine due to possible contamination will be topped-up to 70 per cent.

READ ALSO: Resist the urge to panic shop despite COVID-19 fears, Trudeau says

Hiring more staff to meet demands

Walmart Canada announced on Twitter that as of March 20, the company is looking to hire 10,000 more employees to work in stores and distribution centres as demand on grocery stores increases.

“There’s a lot of work and we need you,” said Walmart Canada CEO and president Horacio Barbeito in a written statement.

He added that the company’s 90,000 employees will be offered additional support including access to online physician care and that annual bonus payments have been accelerated.

On March 19, Save-On-Foods announced it will also be hiring temporary workers to help keep Canadians fed for the duration of the outbreak.

READ ALSO: Parksville homeless shelter forced to close due to COVID-19 concerns

Grocery stores alter hours of operation

Walmart Canada, Save-On-Foods, Whole Foods and many other grocery stores across the province have reduced their hours to give staff more time to restock shelves while the stores are closed and have opted to reserve the first hour of operation each morning for seniors and vulnerable shoppers.

For both Save-On-Foods and Walmart Canada, this means from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., the only customers in the store will be those most vulnerable.

READ ALSO: Saanich grocers prepare staff for COVID-19

Other changes shoppers need to know about

  • Save-On-Foods has temporarily banned reusable bags and suspended bottle returns to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Many stores including Walmart, Save-On-Foods and Thrifty Foods have limited quantities per customer to reduce panic-buying and stockpiling of goods.
  • “Shop normally, there’s enough food for everyone,” said Save-On-Foods president Darrell Jones in a YouTube video posted on March 18.
  • Walmart and Whole Foods are allowing home deliveries to be left at the front door.
  • Jones explained that Save-On-Foods’s delivery service website has been crashing due to increased traffic and encouraged those who can shop in-store to leave the delivery service for customers who need it most.

@devonscarlett
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devon.bidal@saanichnews.com

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