Sixty Dollarama employees and supporters demonstrated in Montreal on Saturday to demand better health and safety measures to fight COVID-19.
Behind the walls of its warehouses and distribution center, the Quebec retailer is content with the bare minimum and sometimes even violates the law, alleged Mostafa Henaway, of the Center for Immigrant Workers, the organizer of the demonstration.
In particular, Mr. Henaway explained that physical distance is almost impossible to respect in the distribution center where nearly 1,000 workers work side by side.
An employee at the demonstration who asked for anonymity out of fear for his job explained why physical distance is almost impossible to maintain there. “If you’re going to stick to the two meters on each pallet, you’re going to be late,” he said. And they require a number of pallets [dans le délai imparti]. “
Employees are constantly on the move and unable to follow the two-meter rule, another employee also confirmed.
The two also believe the company should use contactless hand gel dispensers.
The organizers of the demonstration deplore the fact that “in his haste to make a profit”, Dollarama completely ignored the health risks during the first weeks of the pandemic.
“The company has prioritized money, leaving aside the health and safety of its workers,” they said in a statement.
The retailer was designated an essential service from the start of the pandemic, which allowed it to exceed analysts’ expectations and make a profit of nearly $ 86 million in the first quarter, according to data released this week of the general meeting of its shareholders.
Protesters say Dollarama should continue paying them the premium of three dollars an hour after the pandemic is over.
“Essential before the pandemic and essential after,” said an employee’s sign. A salary of $ 15 would be “reasonable,” he said in an interview.
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 ten years of service, is said to have been dismissed after having informed a supervisor of the numerous cases of COVID-19 among his colleagues. Management then allegedly asked the employment agency which employed him to terminate his employment.
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 ended my contract after three years of work,” the statement said.
Employees believe the company should hire them directly, rather than recruiting them through placement agencies.
Québec member for solidarity Andrés Fontecilla, also present at the demonstration, agrees. According to him, this is a “new form of exploitation” that is developing in Quebec.
“They are agency employees ad vitam aeternam with very precarious conditions of employment, he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. It’s absurd! “
Fontecilla says agencies should be given more supervision so that an employee can be hired directly by the company after a few months.
False allegations, according to Dollarama
Dollarama declined a Canadian Press interview request. In a statement sent by email, the company claimed to have taken “all necessary measures” to protect its employees and that the organizers are only making “allegations” which are “false”.
The retailer says he even doubts that his 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.
Ms. Radmanovich even questions the motives of the organizers and their attacks.
Several people present on site argued that the Quebec government should facilitate the path to citizenship for essential workers, many of whom worked at Dollarama during the pandemic.
“The government has decided to only legalize people in health, but we too are doing essential work,” said an employee who is an asylum seeker.
Fontecilla believes that society simply needs to be “thankful” and regularize the status of all workers who have worked in essential areas.