Last Friday afternoon, Carole Belair was sitting in a dentist’s chair when she received a call but ignored it. After her appointment, she noticed the call came from work: the Corner Store at the Ultramar gas station in Limoges.
She was going back to the village to get her medication and decided to stop in to see what was going on.
Linda Lacasse, the store’s manager, told Belair, 54, she no longer had a job.
“What did I do wrong?” asked Belair. “I cleaned all morning.”
Lacasse said everyone had lost their jobs—all 11 employees that worked at the location.
The news hit particularly hard coming from Lacasse; the two were friends long before Belair started working at the store last May.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said in disbelief. “Three weeks before Christmas, we lose our jobs.”
Shaken up, Belair continued to the pharmacy to get her medication where she saw a handful of clients she’d served while working at the Corner Store.
“I said we all lost our jobs… I got the medication for free and I started crying right there,” she says. The pharmacy told her to bring in a resume, something Belair says she’s never done in her life.
Though the pharmacy isn’t busy, she says they have hired her for a few hours per week, a big difference from the 32 hours she was working at the store.
Her next step was to apply for employment insurance.
Residents of Limoges and surrounding communities caught wind of the news that same afternoon.
“What took place at Ultramar is unacceptable! They always employed local people in the past… The new owner affected our community, our people. I do not know who they are but it is not right. They may be in their rights to do so but personally, I will boycott the Ultramar,” posted Carl Létourneau to a local Facebook group.
That idea of a boycott gained traction later that evening, when a public Facebook message called on people to avoid the store. At the time of this writing, the message has been shared more than 9,000 times with nearly one thousand comments.
According to Belair, in August Couche-Tard’s district manager told Lacasse the store would be transitioning to franchisee ownership in the next few months.
The Review contacted Couche-Tard’s communication department to confirm this information, but as of the time of writing has yet to receive an answer. (We will update when more information is available.)
The new owners took over on Friday, December 8, at 3 p.m. An hour and a half before that happened, Lacasse was directed by her district manager to call all employees and inform them that they were losing their jobs. That’s when Belair got the call from her long-time friend.
According to Belair, she was informed she’d be receiving one week’s pay as compensation.
Under the province’s Employment Standards Act, the move was legal. The Act says employees with less than a year of employment must be given at least one week’s notice of termination. However, employers can decide to terminate employment without notice if they pay the employee a lump sum equal to the amount they are entitled to as notice.
Essentially, Belair would be paid for one week instead of having been given one week’s notice.
Lacasse is still in negotiations with her former employer.
The Employment Standards Act lays out “minimum entitlements.”
As noted in a report by McMillan LLP, “The entitlements to notice of termination and severance pay established by legislation are minimum standards only; greater obligations may be imposed by the terms of an employment agreement or, in the absence of an agreement, by common law. Common law is the law which has been developed in the courts.”
‘It’s not the same’
“Who’s hiring at this time of year?” asks Belair.
Last weekend, she said her husband gave her money to go buy Christmas presents, breaking a makeshift holiday agreement.
“Our deal is I pay for food and presents and he pays for drinks and helps out,” she says. “I didn’t make that money, he did. It’s not the same.”
She adds that her kids are obviously understanding and nonetheless she’s hoping to spoil her granddaughter.
“At least we’re here,” she says. “It’ll be a Christmas of love.”