Alberta meatpacking plant COVID-19 outbreaks highlight need for better worker safety
EDMONTON - On this April 28, Day of Mourning, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, as we remember those who died, were injured, or made ill, from their work and commit to protecting workers and preventing further workplace tragedies we are reminded of how far we still need to go to protect our most vulnerable workers.
Meatpacking plants are crowded and dangerous workplaces but there were many ways the COVID-19 outbreaks and the loss of life connected to the Cargill and JBS meatpacking plants could have been prevented. The plants could have been temporarily closed sooner to sanitize. Social distancing and personal protective equipment could have been implemented sooner. Infected workers could have stayed home or found safe accommodation to quarantine since most are recent immigrants and temporary migrant workers who are low paid and often do not choose their working and living conditions. Mass testing of all workers could have occurred and those who tested positive quarantined — even if they didn’t show symptoms. The UCP government and OHS could have conducted a proper inspection and not relied on a video inspection.
“What was really lacking was the political will to prioritize the workers’ safety over food production,” said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “And Kenney continues to downplay what is now Canada’s largest workplace outbreak by saying that only two of 200 meat processing plants in the province are affected, failing to acknowledge that these two plants have over 4,500 workers and produce 70 per cent of Canada’s beef supply.”
If the COVID-19 crisis is teaching us anything, it’s the importance of our family, friends — people. When we reflect on the loss of life, on this day of mourning, we must put everything into perspective, so in our policy, we must put worker safety first.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Day of Mourning looks vastly different. In Alberta, the Calgary and District Labour Council will have a Zoom broadcast of a wreath-laying ceremony at noon MDT and the Edmonton and District Labour Council has shared a video. The AFL will be connecting to these through social media channels and we encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on those we’ve lost due to their workplaces and what our world would look like when we put worker safety first. Today we mourn, tomorrow we fight for a safer future.
Director of Communications, AFL