UCP say they are protecting food supply, NDP express concerns over worker safety

by Morinville News Staff

The Government of Alberta says it is working with federal government and industry and worker representatives, to implement a plan to respond to confirmed cases of COVID-19 in food processing plants that will protect workers, while ensuring limited impact to Alberta’s essential food supply during this pandemic.

Although COVID-19 is not a foodborne illness, essential food industry workers, like all Albertans, are still susceptible to COVID-19.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases are growing at food processing plants along with the total number of cases throughout the Country.

The first confirmed case in Alberta occurred at a beef plant north of Calgary, which halted production and shut down when the case was confirmed. Agriculture and Forestry worked with plant management, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Alberta Health Services (AHS) and the Ministry of Labour to resolve the issue.

Since this first case, the province says Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has continued to work with AHS and the CFIA to establish an intergovernmental business resumption protocol for provincially or federally licensed food processing facilities in Alberta.

The Government says the principles of the protocol were applied at Cargill Beef when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed there on April 6.

“Food production is an essential service,” said Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. “The employees in Alberta’s food processing industry are still hard at work every day, and thanks to them our food supply chain is strong. This new plan we’ve developed will help keep them safe – while they keep us fed during the pandemic.”

Following Thursday’s announcement by the Government, NDP Leader Rachel Notley released a statement to media.

“We are deeply concerned that hundreds of workers at a High River-area meat processing plant have been laid off or had their hours cut substantially for exercising their legal right to speak out about unsafe work conditions,” Notely said, calling on the government to ensure the workers are safe. “To date, there have been 38 confirmed COVID-19 cases — that we know of — at the Cargill plant and yet it remains open.”

The NDP charge that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union has heard nothing from the Minister.

“We are told the conditions are Cargill are very concerning, given COVID-19, with 2,000 workers coming in and out of the plant daily and working nearly shoulder to shoulder,” Notley said.

The opposition leader said UFCW have asked to shut the plant down for two weeks to assess and create a safe working space that is compliant with Public Health Orders have gone unanswered.

“Instead, the workers are now suffering. We have seen plants in the United States shut for two weeks after a single positive case,” she said. “Here, we have 38 at least. Enough is enough, the Government must order the plant closed until all parties are satisfied that it is safe.”

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