VICTORIA -- Workers at a Victoria grocery store are demanding hazard pay as compensation for working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The unionized employees of the Lifestyle Markets store on Douglas Street say they are stressed by understaffing and ongoing health concerns, and are demanding a retroactive $3-per-hour wage supplement, plus additional paid sick days.

A statement sent by a non-profit labour group on behalf of Lifestyle employees says four staff members at the store are suffering from presumptive cases of the novel coronavirus.

"We are continuing to put our health and our families’ health at risk every day we work at Lifestyle Markets," says a letter signed by 41 store employees.

"The presence of COVID-19 and the increased risk of infection to Lifestyle Markets workers should, at the very least, entitle Lifestyle workers to 6 paid sick days and a $3 increase in pay until the crisis has abated.”

Employees at the store voted to unionize in February. However, bargaining has only recently begun and no contract has been reached yet.

A lawyer representing Lifestyle Markets said the employer is not entitled under B.C. labour law to increase or decrease employee pay until four months after a bargaining unit is certified or until a collective agreement is negotiated. 

Several large grocery chains, including Loblaw, Sobeys, Save-on-Foods and Walmart Canada, have already announced pay increases for frontline workers during the pandemic.