November 17, 2018

Winnipeg
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Food fight

Independent grocers stay open in face of Labour Day law

Several Winnipeg independent grocery stores defied provincial law by opening their doors on Labour Day, saying they were meeting a demand from customers.

Munther Zeid, whose family owns five Food Fare stores in the city, said a provincial inspector ordered him to close his establishment at 2285 Portage Ave. during the noon hour Monday.

Zeid refused. "They said, 'We're going to have to report you to the police.' And I said, 'Go right ahead.'"

The police never arrived, and the store remained open.

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Several Winnipeg independent grocery stores defied provincial law by opening their doors on Labour Day, saying they were meeting a demand from customers.

Munther Zeid, whose family owns five Food Fare stores in the city, said a provincial inspector ordered him to close his establishment at 2285 Portage Ave. during the noon hour Monday.

<p>Munther Zeid at his Food Fare location at 2285 Portage Avenue says a provincial inspector ordered him to close his store on Labour Day and he refused.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Munther Zeid at his Food Fare location at 2285 Portage Avenue says a provincial inspector ordered him to close his store on Labour Day and he refused.

Zeid refused. "They said, 'We're going to have to report you to the police.' And I said, 'Go right ahead.'"

The police never arrived, and the store remained open.

In an interview Tuesday, Zeid said Food Fare — and other local independent grocers — have long opened on Labour Day in contravention of the law, and the province has never done anything about it in the past.

He wants to see the law changed.

"The province says they have the law in place to make it an even playing field — to give the small businesses the chance to grow, to do more business. So why am I being penalized?" he said.

The Retail Businesses Holiday Closing Act allows businesses that ordinarily operate with four or fewer employees (including the owner) to be open on general holidays, such as Labour Day, Good Friday and Christmas Day. Certain businesses, such as laundromats, pharmacies and those selling garden supplies, are also specifically exempt under act.

Zeid says he needs more than four employees on shift to operate properly.

What's open

The Retail Businesses Holiday Closing Act prevents certain Manitoba retailers from being open on New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Canada Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day. The following can be open on those holidays:

The Retail Businesses Holiday Closing Act prevents certain Manitoba retailers from being open on New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Canada Day, Labour Day and Christmas Day. The following can be open on those holidays:

• Businesses that ordinarily operate with four or less employees (including the owner);

• Restaurants;

• Pharmacies;

• Laundromats;

• Boat and motor vehicle rental, repair and service shops;

• Places with educational, recreational or amusement purposes;

• Tourism and recreational facilities including summer resorts;

• Other retailers selling nursery stock, flowers, garden supplies and accessories, fresh fruit and vegetables (solely),

and gasoline and related goods for motor vehicles.

– source: Province of Manitoba

"Why are they all of a sudden interested in me after all these years?" he said, adding targeting small grocers is unfair when large pharmacies with substantial grocery sections are allowed to be open.

"They're not pharmacies. They're a grocery store with a large pharmacy," he said of his competitors.

All five city Food Fare stores were open for business Monday, as were two other independent grocers the Free Press contacted Tuesday. The latter also employ more than four workers at any one time.

Scott Clement, owner-manager of Dakota Family Foods on St. Mary's Road, said there's a demand for food stores to be open on Labour Day, especially with school starting this week.

"We're selling food. We're selling perishable products that people need," he said. "We were busy in here, and we had a lot of grateful customers in here. The public is saying we should be open. There's no getting around it."

Clement said staff, particularly students, are quick to volunteer to work on general holidays because of the opportunity to earn overtime pay.

Food is a basic need, he said. "We're not selling alcohol and those kinds of things."

"We're selling food. We're selling perishable products that people need. We were busy in here, and we had a lot of grateful customers in here. The public is saying we should be open. There's no getting around it." – Scott Clement, owner-manager of Dakota Family Foods

The general manager of Sun Valley Fine Foods on Gateway Road, who would only provide her first name — Tracy — said the only day her store closes is on Christmas Day.

"That's the way we've always been since I've been here (2011)," she said, adding, as far as she knows, it's perfectly legal for her store to be open on general holidays as long as the employer pays its employees at overtime rates.

She said it may be illegal for big-box stores to be open on Labour Day, "but we're not a big-box store."

A provincial spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday a member of its employment standards branch visited Zeid's store Monday "as part of an investigation into a store being open on Labour Day."

"Employment Standards works to educate businesses about operation requirements in keeping with provincial legislation. This education is in large part to strive for a level playing field for businesses," she said in a statement.

No other store was visited Monday, she said.

John Graham, director of government relations with the Retail Council of Canada, said no other western Canadian province requires retail stores to close on Labour Day and other holidays — or restricts Sunday shopping the way that Manitoba does. "Manitoba’s law is, nationally, considered pretty archaic," he said.

That being said, all retailers should follow the law until the province amends it, Graham said.

The provincial government said Manitobans haven't been clamouring for change.

"Manitobans have not expressed to us that changing these laws is a priority, but if Manitobans were to do so, we would take it into consideration," cabinet press secretary Caitlin MacGregor said Tuesday.

Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said workers have fought over the years for the right to have days off to spend time with their families, and the law should be respected.

"The reason that we have laws in place is so people can get a break," he said. "Just because an employer is willing to pay overtime doesn’t mean they should step outside the law."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

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