CALGARY — A group representing Canada’s meat-packers is expecting more changes in the coming months to make sure workers have protection from COVID-19.
Chris White, president of the Canadian Meat Council, says $77.5 million earmarked by Ottawa for the food-processing industry will be used for future changes to plants — not to pay for measures already put in place.
“There’s a pretty strong expectation further mitigation efforts will need to be put in place,” White said.
“In conversations the industry has had with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, everybody’s trying to determine what else we can do to further protect the workers.”
The meat-packing sector has been hard hit by the health crisis.
Cargill temporarily shut down plants in High River, Alta., and Chambly, Que., after outbreaks of COVID-19. Olymel shut down its hog slaughter and processing plant in Yamachiche, Que., and the JBS beef plant in Brooks, Alta., temporarily went down to one daily shift from two.
The Cargill and JBS operations in Alberta account for 70 per cent of Canada’s beef production.
“I think it caught the whole world off guard. I don’t think any sector could have anticipated what this looked like. In some respects, too, meat-packing plants have been a bit of the canary in the coal mine,” White said.
It’s not feasible to rebuild the plants, he said, but safety measures being taken have evolved since the first outbreaks at the facilities.
“At the end of every day, we have an assessment and the plants make an assessment to say ‘this worked today.’
“Can you retrofit in terms of making parts of the plant have more automation than they currently have? Does that mean a plant would have to shut down for an extended period of time in order to do that type of retrofitting? There’s some pretty significant conversations that need to take place.”
Federal officials have said the emergency money for food processing might not move until the end of September. It’s intended to help companies get more protective equipment for workers and to upgrade and reopen shuttered meat facilities forced to close.
Rob Meijer, head of business development, marketing and sustainability for JBS Canada, said the company is focused on working with employees, ranchers, public-health officials and the community of Brooks to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus.
“We will continue to carefully monitor COVID-19 testing and our risk mitigation on a daily basis, and will make any decisions on additional mitigation measures based on the best available data,” he said.
An official with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, which represents meat-packing employees at the two Alberta beef plants, agrees that the companies are unlikely to build new facilities.
Michael Hughes said any future changes should involve consultations with workers.
“There’s plenty of things they could do … like slowing down the line speed, not having the same amount of production that you have pre-COVID-19, pre-social-distancing rules,” Hughes said.
“That to us is something that needs to be discussed, because we really need to look at the entire food system.”
Hughes said the pandemic requires a review of every “nook and cranny” at the plants to assess whether they’re safe.
“Now, if you have 250 people using a keypad on a microwave every day, that suddenly is a health and safety risk, so our committee is challenged with evaluating that sort of thing.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 23, 2020
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Alberta’s COVID-19 breakthrough – Highest number of tests and lowest number of new cases in one day
It certainly appears to be a sign that the first wave of COVID-19 is abating. Friday, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer reported 6,455 people were tested over the last 24 hours and there were only 7 new positive cases. This resulted in a very interesting video update from Dr. Deena Hinshaw as the province announced several changes that will be resulting from the success of Alberta’s battle with COVID-19.
Albertans will soon be able to visit loved ones in hospital. The province will continue to move toward protecting Albertans at the highest risk of severe outcomes. That means more freedoms for the majority of Albertans as the province prepares to announce Stage 2 details early next week.
Alberta eyes business eviction protection tied to COVID-19 economy lockdown
EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says legislation is coming to address those businesses facing eviction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenney says details are coming next week, but adds the province is “looking closely” at a recent eviction ban imposed in British Columbia.
Earlier this week, the B.C. government announced it was imposing new rules on landlords who are eligible for federal rent relief but don’t apply for it and try to evict tenants for lack of payment.
Those landlords will not be allowed to evict such tenants through to the end of the month, when the federal rent relief program is set to end.
Kenney says he is hesitant to bring in a blanket ban, given that there may be legitimate reasons to evict a tenant, but says Alberta is taking action and commercial landlords need to “get with the program.”
Kenney also announced a new $200-million program to provide small- and medium-sized businesses with up to $5,000 each to help them reopen following government-imposed lockdowns to battle the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020
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