Loblaw increasing part-time workers in Newfoundland, may affect benefits

The union representing employees of Dominion Stores supermarkets in Newfoundland is accusing parent company, Loblaw Companies Ltd., of using an increasing number of part-time employees in order to eliminate full-time jobs.

Loblaw offered voluntary buyout packages to its full-time staffers in Newfoundland in June, with the aim of eliminating 44 positions, as part of what the company called a restructuring process. Unifor, which represents 1,200 full- and part-time Dominion workers, said the company is trying to shift full-time hours to part-time employees.

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“There’s been a historical erosion of full-time employees in Dominion stores across the province,” says Chris MacDonald, Unifor’s assistant to the national president. “I think it’s time people understand that just because you work in a retail environment doesn’t mean you deserve to be treated unfairly.”

According to Unifor, more than 70 per cent of the Dominion workers they represent are part-time employees.

Employees need to work 1,040 in a calendar year to receive benefits that extend beyond the government required benefits, such as sick days and bereavement leave. “Part-time employees are not guaranteed work hours, so there is no guarantee [they] will get benefits,” says MacDonald.

Those who do qualify still don’t receive access to short- and long-term disability insurance, which is only available to full-time employees, he adds.

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Both full- and part-time employees have access to the company’s defined benefit pension plan, but MacDonald notes it’s earnings based. “Since part-time employees work inconsistent schedules, fewer hours and have a high turnover rate, pension benefits for part-time employees tend to be based on lower earnings and fewer years of service,” says MacDonald. “It is the full-time employees that accrue the significant benefits for extended periods of time, which produce good pensions.”

MacDonald says the union is asking Loblaw to start early bargaining on the next union contract, which expires in October. Negotiations are currently set to begin in September. The union is also calling for an audit of all hours worked by Dominion part-time employees to determine whether they’re being given full-time hours.

“We know a significant number of part-timers are working full-time hours and are being classified incorrectly,” he says. “If you have six part-timers scheduled every day, five days a week, on the same shift but different bodies, then you obviously need six full-time jobs. Our argument is they would have three times more part-time workers than they would actually need if they would just have full-time jobs.”

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In an emailed statement to Benefits Canada, Loblaw said it’s making changes to several Dominion departments and functions to simplify operations and better serve customers.

“This has resulted in the elimination of some roles, and changes to others in several departments, including new opportunities for some,” said Loblaw spokesperson Catherine Thomas. “We hope to achieve these changes through voluntary buyouts and early retirements. We are working through those conversations with affected individuals.”