Manitoba’s COVID-19 restrictions create concerns for workers, small businesses

The union representing more than 7,000 Manitoba grocery store workers has concerns over the province’s new restrictions, which came into effect Friday, and how they will impact workers trying to do their jobs.

Jeff Traeger of UFCW told 680 CJOB his organization sent letters to grocery chains across the province asking for clarity on how management will help keep situations calm.

Under the current rules, grocery stores can allow 25 per cent of their capacity — or 250 people, whichever is lower — and Traeger said there are questions about how that will be regulated.

“We know that some of the bigger stores are having a hard time keeping that number that low,” he said.

“It’s a bit all over the map. There are some store managers in individual locations, regardless of what banner it is, who are very good at making sure they have an accurate count of who’s in the store and making sure that they’re at that 25 per cent or lower threshold.

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“…and then there are others ones who kind of leave it up to chance. It’s a bit of a competitive business,  so a lot of them are saying, ‘hey we’re not going to turn customers away because they’ll just go to our competitor’.”

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Traegar said there’s also potential for cashiers to be stuck in ‘hard discussions’ with customers at the till, if those customers are trying to buy non-essential items that are currently off-limits.

Store staff, he said, aren’t trained or paid enough to deal with those kinds of potential confrontations, and despite the provincial guidelines, it’s likely that some customers will try to sneak some non-essential purchases through.

Union members, he said, are within their rights to refuse unsafe work, which could include such an issue with a customer, or even a customer who refuses to wear a mask.

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Read more: Man in his 20s Manitoba’s youngest coronavirus victim, 9 new deaths, 438 new cases Friday

The prairie director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says he’s glad to see the new restrictions have levelled the playing field for smaller businesses, at least somewhat, but he’s still hoping for a turnaround by the holiday season that will allow some form of shopping at all local stores.

“Really, this is a critical holiday retail season and we need to make sure we can get back to a point where we can reopen the economy safely,” Jonathan Alward told 680 CJOB.

“We know that a lot of the community spread isn’t necessarily happening at retail. My hope is that all Manitobans, if we can work together, especially over the next couple of weeks, to really drive down the numbers and really quickly reverse this trend that’s been happening… maybe we can slightly open retail and other non-essential businesses this holiday season.”

Alward said his organization has been in daily contact with the province over the restrictions and potential changes, and said he’d like to see something that perhaps worked on an appointment basis, assuring there’d be a very limited number of customers and staff in a building at one time.

“It’s (already) been an enormous undertaking for a lot of businesses,” he said, “organizing everything that they can and can’t sell… is this specific item listed as essential? Then you’ve got to educate your staff and educate your customers.”

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Read more: ‘Normal Christmas’ off the table, Trudeau says amid coronavirus spike

One person who doesn’t agree with Alward’s hopes of a return to some form of normalcy for the holidays is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who spoke Friday about Canada’s fight against the coronavirus.

“A normal Christmas, quite frankly, is out of the question,” Trudeau said — just hours after Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that Canada is “not on a good trajectory” as she unveiled the latest figures in the virus’ spread Friday morning.

Tam warned that if Canadians don’t reduce their contacts, Canada could see 20,000 cases daily by the end of December.

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Coronavirus: Manitoba bans private gatherings, limits retail sales to essential items only

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