UCP and NDP at odds over safety at food processing plants

by Morinville News Staff

The Government of Alberta says the health and safety of workers at Alberta’s food processing plants continues to be monitored to ensure the safe operation of Alberta’s food supply chain.

The government said Wednesday that public health officials, Occupational Health and Safety, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) have worked together to protect worker safety at the plants and help limit the spread of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 update, 946 of the province’s total cases are associated with the Cargill plant in High River, 566 with the JBS plant in Brooks and 38 at the Harmony Beef processing plant for a total of 26% of the province’s cases to date. Of the infected, 1244 have recovered; however, Cargill had one employee death from COVID-19 as well as the father of a meat plant employee.

The province says a dedicated Alberta Health Services task force is working around the clock to respond to each COVID-19 outbreak and that Alberta Health Services and Occupational Health and Safety are visiting facilities regularly to ensure control measures are implemented and provide ongoing advice and support to the workers and employers.

With Cargill reopening this past Monday, questions have been raised by media, the UFCW, and the Official Opposition on worker safety.

The government says Alberta’s meat processing facilities are expected to implement safety controls that meet AHS, OHS and Safety Legislation requirements as well as chief medical officer of health orders.

The province says controls vary among the facilities to address each situation and operation. Expected controls include:

• staff temperature check before entering the facility
• providing face masks and other personal protective equipment to employees to be worn at all times
• enhanced cleaning and sanitizing practices
• staggered breaks and shift flexibility
• prohibiting unnecessary visitors at the facility
• increasing distance between employees and installing screening between individual employee stations
• vehicles entering the plant gate cannot have more than two passengers
• installing numerous physical barriers throughout the facility (for example, Plexiglas partitions)
• reconfiguring lunchrooms and locker rooms to comply with physical distancing requirements
• installing additional sink(s) and sanitization stations
• reconfiguring various entrances / egress points to control the flow of foot traffic
• updating procedures, training materials

Occupational Health and Safety continues to prioritize the inspection and monitoring of food processing plants to ensure the required controls are in place to meet the Occupational Health and Safety legislation and chief medical officer of health orders.

Alberta’s NDP Opposition wants more and says the UCP shut down emergency debate on the province’s meat-packing plants.

The NDP put forward a motion Wednesday in the Legislature citing the urgent need to discuss the matter; however, the UCP did not support the motion.

“Albertans deserve to know what happened – they deserve answers. Unfortunately, the UCP have refused to provide any transparency about their mishandling of this outbreak,” said Heather Sweet, Official Opposition House Leader.
Sweet went on to say the Premier has refused to accept any responsibility for his government’s actions.

“Just a few weeks ago, the UCP told us everything was safe in these meat-packing plants. Now there are hundreds of cases at these facilities and one worker has died,” said Sweet. “The Premier and his UCP government have refused to accept any responsibility or provide basic answers. Our caucus intended to bring the voices of workers and all Albertans’ into the Legislature with this emergency debate. But now the UCP have completely turned their backs on them.”

Wednesday’s NDP motion also called for an out-of-province investigator to monitor the ongoing activities at all meat-packing facilities in Alberta. The motion also asked for a public inquiry into the Cargill outbreak, once the public health state of emergency is lifted.

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