NDP says Cargill meat plant reopening does not have worker support

by Morinville News Staff

The Cargill meat processing plant in High River will reopen on Monday, although nearly 16 per cent of the province’s COVID-19 cases to date are associated with the plant’s workers. As of Wednesday, 821 of the province’s 5165 cases were workers at the Cargill plant, and another 276 cases are among workers and contractors at the JBS plant in Brooks.

Alberta NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray said Wednesday afternoon that the plan to open comes without the support of worker representatives.

“Cargill is the site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in all of Canada,” Gray said in a statement Wednesday, adding the situation was avoidable if the UCP Government and the companies had listened to the workers.

“It was the workers who first raised concerns about cramped working spaces and a lack of Personal Protective Equipment in early April. They were ignored and then people started dying. Finally, on April 20, the Cargill closed. Not because of anything Jason Kenney or the UCP did, but because the company finally acted. That was just two days after the UCP’s Minister of Agriculture insisted that plant was completely safe. JBS has still not closed despite a major outbreak and a petition started by the people of Brooks community where the plant resides, calling for it to cease operations.”

Gray went on to say that the decision to reopen Cargill is proof that these companies and the UCP Government still refuse to take worker safety seriously.

“They value the companies and their profits over the people. This is a profoundly unCanadian approach,” Gray said, accusing Premier Jason Kenney of taking his cues from US President Donald Trump who recently issued an order to keep American plants open, despite outbreaks and worker concerns.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday in her daily press briefing that Alberta Health Services have been on sight at the Cargill plant multiple times.

“The plant site itself has been fully cleaned,” Hinshaw said, adding workers have been informed they can stay home if they are not feeling well and that they should feel free to get tested again.

“AHS has been working hard to phone every single worker … to make sure they have the info they need about the practices that will keep them safe,” Hinshaw said.

The CMO said employers have an obligation to ensure worker safety.

Gray, on the other hand, says if the company won’t do what’s right to protect its workers, then the provincial government must.

“Premier Jason Kenney, Minister of Labour Jason Copping and Minister Agriculture Devin Dreeshen have done nothing to assist the workers or the broader High River and Brooks communities,” Gray said. “They sat on their hands while COVID-19 spread through these plants. And now they could act by enforcing new Public Health Orders on these plants, and they have refused.”

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