Aug. 01, 2012 - Issue #876: The Art Of Serving
Twenty-eight thousand Canadians will lose their jobs next spring. In January of 2011, Target announced it purchased the leasehold rights of up to 220 Zellers stores in Canada. It then sold 39 of those stores to American retail giant Walmart and announced Target would move into 100 – 150 locations by 2013. To the average customer, our shopping routine will likely remain unchanged. There's little difference in the services offered by Target, Walmart and Zellers. And with a recent federal cabinet decision to approve Target's acquisition, there will even be Canadian content on the shelves. Target is required to sell "uniquely Canadian cultural products." But those uniquely Canadian products don't include labour standards.
Workers who have been employed by the Canadian retail outlet for over 30 years have been offered no guarantees in this transition. Experienced employees across the country will be asked to reapply for their jobs at a starting wage rate and standards.
Recently, 1500 UFCW workers in Ontario ratified a three-year contract which included wage increases and an enhanced severance package in case of store closure. UFCW has launched a campaign to put pressure on the notoriously anti-union Target to employ workers at similar rates and recognize experience.
The Target acquisition is not the first time Zellers has experienced foreign ownership. In 2008 Zellers was sold to New York-based NRDC Equity Partners which continued to operate the stores with the employees, standards and bargaining rights the company had previously created. But this new acquisition will be different, and it comes with the full approval of the Canadian government. The Investment Canada Act gives the Canadian government the ability to have a final say on the entry of an international company. The intent is to ensure the entry of foreign owners will have a net benefit to Canada—a benefit that apparently doesn't include the protection of work standards.
The upcoming replacement of Zellers by Target, and in some cases Walmart, is not about protectionism, but should be about protecting Canadian industry and workers. Retail is a difficult job, and more often than not it is not the first choice of any worker, but decent working conditions, fair wages and the ability to improve one's own working environment should be the rights of any worker, and should be a standard we uphold in this country.
With the failure of the Harper government to in any way assist Zellers workers and keep their wage and working standards intact, the federal government has shown a distinct lack of regard for Canadian workers' well-being. And that's what we should really be working to protect.
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