Thank you, Madam Chair.
On behalf of the United Food and Commercial Workers, I want to thank the standing committee for the opportunity to share our perspective today, for your work on this subject, and for bringing further attention to this very important issue. As the union for Canada's grocery store workers, we certainly have a number of thoughts on this topic.
We're a private sector union that represents more than 160,000 grocery store workers across the country. We also represent a further 100,000 Canadians, and folks aspiring to become Canadians, who work in many other key sectors and other industries.
As our name suggests, the majority of our membership is directly connected to the food sector. To make a long story short, UFCW members work hard, day in and day out, to proudly feed Canadians. As the national leader of Canada's food workers union, I am both proud and concerned that our members have continued to do what they have always done throughout this current pandemic.
Despite the clear and present risks to themselves and their families, UFCW members have stepped up. They've stepped up like the front-line work heroes that they've always been, to help their neighbours, their country, and all of us get through this difficult time.
As a result, hundreds of UFCW Canada members have fallen ill. And yes, some have died, including a father of four, a beloved grandmother and a young cashier with her whole life still ahead of her.
If the current pandemic has resulted in one positive for our front-line workers, it is the recognition that they are now receiving for the crucial work that they are doing, from the general public, from public officials such as yourselves and from the Prime Minister, no less.
This recognition of grocery workers is certainly welcome, but quite frankly, it is overdue.
For food workers, the premium pay is appreciated from a financial standpoint, but it's also an important symbol. It represents a heightened level of respect and acknowledgement that has long eluded this industry and the hard-working people who make it possible.
As their union, we are extremely disappointed in the decisions by Canada's largest retailers and other food companies to cancel these premiums. It doesn't make sense to cancel pandemic pay when we are still experiencing a pandemic situation. More than that, it's simply not fair.
In response, the UFCW has filed grievances over this issue. We have launched a national campaign to engage the public over the cancellation of pandemic pay. We are currently at the bargaining table with our major employers to negotiate the wage increases that these food workers so desperately deserve.
The fact of the matter is that this so-called "premium pay" must become permanent. Every Canadian has a vested interest in making sure that food workers are treated and compensated fairly.
That said, I must add that safeguarding the health and safety of our UFCW Canada members and their families is a top priority. We're calling on both unionized and non-unionized food employers to adopt the set of standards that we have detailed with the industry and the federal government. We've made some progress on this front, but there is still much to do. I would be happy to provide this information to the members of the committee.
While we welcome these hearings, I am curious as to why only Canadian grocers have been called to give presentations. I think the public would benefit from hearing from the huge transnationals that operate in this space and cancelled their premiums a long time earlier.
I would conclude my remarks by suggesting that greater corporate responsibility is only a part of the solution here. Broader action from all levels of government, and legislative and policy reforms that strike a better balance between grocery workers and their corporate leaders are just as essential.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and honourable members of this committee. It will be my pleasure to answer any of your questions.