Grocery clerk and cashier jobs trending toward lower pay, less stability in Ontario: report

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Breadcrumb Trail Links Retail & Marketing FP Work ‘There are a lot of people going into this industry making very low rates of pay relative to how much it costs to live in parts of Ontario,’ says one of the report’s authors Author of the article: Jake Edmiston A change […]

‘There are a lot of people going into this industry making very low rates of pay relative to how much it costs to live in parts of Ontario,’ says one of the report’s authors

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Despite receiving much adoration during the pandemic, grocery clerks and cashiers are working in overwhelmingly low-paid and part-time positions, according to a new report that looks at the state of Ontario’s supermarket industry.

Researchers at Ryerson’s University’s Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship found the grocery industry is providing fewer stable, full-time positions, partly due to a shift in consumer shopping habits toward evenings and weekends.

“This used to be a good job,” reads a header in Brookfield’s 43-page report on the Ontario food retail business, scheduled for release on Wednesday.

Cashiers in Ontario — 82 per cent of them women — make up the majority of the province’s 200,000 grocery store jobs. They earn a median wage of $14.25 an hour, the provincial minimum, according to the Brookfield report, which was completed in partnership with the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada union.

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The way grocery chains pay their employees has drawn intense public scrutiny throughout the past year, particularly after it was revealed that some of the biggest players were in contact with one another before each cancelled their respective $2-per-hour pandemic bonus for frontline staff on the same day last June. All denied any wrongdoing in the case.

But the move, at a time when grocery sales were skyrocketing due to restrictions on restaurants, sparked interest from Ottawa, which continues to consider changes to competition legislation.

Unifor, which represents Canadian grocery workers, earlier this month criticized Loblaw Cos. Ltd. for refusing to “fairly compensate frontline workers,” despite first-quarter adjusted net earnings of $392 million. Loblaw, however, is reinstating a pandemic bonus for staff, though it’s a one-time payment of $25 to $175 — a gesture one union official likened to a “slap in the face.”

Brookfield researchers consulted with nearly 300 food retail employees in Ontario through interviews, surveys and focus groups, along with employers and industry insiders, for the report. The employees reported “higher-than-normal levels of tension” during the pandemic, since they were called upon to enforce mask rules and preside over long lines outside capacity-limited stores.

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A common belief, among veteran grocery store staff, is that the new generation of workers are worse off, according to report co-author Kimberly Bowman, a senior projects manager at the Brookfield Institute.

“There are a lot of people going into this industry making very low rates of pay relative to how much it costs to live in parts of Ontario,” she said.

Bowman acknowledged that grocery employees have an opportunity to advance, earn higher wages and work steadier hours. But that sort of seniority is difficult to reach, since low-paid, entry-level workers end up leaving their jobs long before they can advance. The employee turnover rate averages 30 per cent per store, according to the report.

The number of cashier jobs has been growing, but more of the positions are now part time. Full-time cashier positions in Ontario dropped by 16 per cent between 2006 and 2016, Brookfield reported. Of Ontario’s 130,000 cashiers, 80 per cent work part time, with wages ranging from $14.25 to $15.87, while 68 per cent of the 69,000 shelf-stockers work part time, earning $14.25 to $18.35.

“An employee might need to be available for 40 or 50 hours per week, but be offered work for only 10 or 20 hours,” the report said. “Perhaps not surprisingly, this can result in people working two to three jobs.”

Part of the reason behind the shift toward part-time work could be a change in the way Canadians shop for food. Over the past 30 years, grocery shopping has stopped being a predominantly daytime activity. Now, the bulk of the shopping happens in “micro-trips” after work, or on weekends. Sunday has become grocery’s busiest shopping day of the week, in terms of sales per hour, Brookfield said.

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That shift has meant stores need fewer full-time workers during the day and more part-timers covering the rush period in the evening.

Eric La Flèche, chief executive at Metro Inc., told the Financial Post last year that turnover is a reality in the grocery sector because “for a lot of people it’s not their career.” But others do manage to make a career out of it, he said.

“In the stores, there’s always been turnover, there always will be turnover, but there’s also opportunities for long-term careers,” he said last fall. “We still attract people who become department managers, assistant store managers, stores managers, district managers, VP of ops. But it’s retail, it’s tough, it’s weekends, it’s nights. Some folks today don’t want to work those hours.”

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