Quebec took its fight against COVID to a new level this weekend, introducing a nightly curfew that left many in the food and grocery sector with concerns about what it would mean for their businesses.
Starting Saturday and effective for at least four weeks, people must stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., except for a few limited reasons.
Businesses including grocery stores and dépanneurs stores must close at 7:30 p.m. to give staff time to get home before the curfew starts. Drug stores and convenience stores are among the few exceptions for businesses that can stay open after curfew.
But, like nearly every emergency measure taken during the COVID crisis, there is confusion about the new rules. As recently as mid-week there was uncertainty about what the curfew would mean to grocery employees who were needed to work past 8 p.m. for store restocking and cleaning.
However, Roxane Larouche, a spokesperson for The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) in Quebec, told Canadian Grocer that premiere François Legault indicated late in the week that there wouldn’t be any issues for those workers.
“He said that people that do have to work, won’t be bothered by the police if they are going to work,” said Larouche.
The union also had discussions with the larger employers in the province earlier in the pandemic to ensure there would be no grievances if an employee was in any way prevented from making it to work because of travel restrictions.
And Larouche said by Sunday afternoon, all of the big banners with UFCW member employees had provided those workers with letters confirming their need to be out after the curfew.
“They’ve already prepared the letter and sent it to all the employees that are working past 8 p.m.,” said Larouche.“So for the most part all of our members that work past 8 p.m. have those letters.”
On Friday one grocery store manager told the Montreal Gazette he was unsure what had to be done for his staff. “That’s a very big problem, they are supposed to receive letters today to protect them,” he said. “Because if they are [stopped by police] they have to prove that they work here and they are going home. That is a major problem.”
Larouche said any workers who have not been provided the letter by their employer can download the government document and have it signed by their employer. (The government created a certificate for travel during curfew that could be downloaded from its site. It was only available in French at press time.)
Grocery retailers were also concerned earlier closings would mean the same number of shoppers in smaller shopping windows, leading to staffing headaches during the day and possibly longer lineups.
Marc Fortin, president of the Retail Council of Canada in Quebec, told the Gazette the Council had been working with the government to create campaigns to encourage people to better plan their grocery trips and only send one family member at a time.
“We think the first week will be an adjustment,” said Fortin. “But hopefully people get used to it over the remaining three weeks.”