Alberta’s NDP opposition today called for closure and immediate health and safety assessments at the JBS beef processing plant in Brooks, Alta., and the Olymel hog processing plant in Red Deer.
The Cargill beef processing plant in High River, Alta., is shutting down after the death of one plant worker on the weekend and the confirmed infection of another 360 employees. NDP leader Rachel Notley said that other plants could face the same problems unless action is taken.
“Frankly this UCP government should have acted sooner,” said Notley.
She said the party has learned there was one Occupational Health and Safety Inspection at the plant April 15, in which the inspector viewed a video of the plant, shot by Cargill personnel, and concluded safety measures were adequate to protect workers.
On April 18, Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen assured workers of their safety during a telephone town hall but now hundreds of workers have the virus and have inadvertently spread it into the community.
“It is unconscionable that we now have a situation where hundreds of people have contacted a deadly virus all because the UCP couldn’t see past the supply chain to the people who work in it,” said Notley.
“It’s shocking that they were allowed to be put at risk.
“Our NDP caucus has been raising concerns about the working conditions at the Cargill site for weeks.… These workers spoke out about the lack of physical distancing, the lack of PPE, and the lack of protocols for protecting their health and safety and we are outraged the UCP did not take this more seriously.”
She said the Cargill plant shutdown could have been avoided if there had been an earlier aggressive health and safety inspection and regular monitoring of the plant.
Notley also called on the provincial government to provide support to cattle producers adversely affected by the plant closure but did not give specifics.
The chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has predicted that the number of people in the High River region infected with COVID-19 will grow as the Alberta Health Services investigation continues.