Cargill workers, many of them new to Canada, face the isolation of COVID-19

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OTTAWA –
Many workers at a COVID-19 Alberta meat processing plant are Filipinos and newcomers to Canada, and are now experiencing a growing sense of isolation from the epidemic.

Cargill’s meat processing plant in High River, Alberta, saw 949 cases of COVID-19, including the death of an employee, identified as Biu Thi Hiep. The virus forced a two-week shutdown of the installation, which ended on Monday.

Some community members say that Cargill workers, most of them on the other side of the world, are being rejected by some community members because of the epidemic.

“People look badly at them in a store or worry because someone might be working at Cargill,” Julia Gwyn-Morris, executive director of Daydreams & Sunbeams Early Learning Centers in High River, told CTV News.

Others in the community are helping those who need it, however, as they complete deliveries of groceries to Filipino Cargill workers who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and who cannot return to work for the foreseeable future.

“We help each other, we are united in this pandemic period”, Jocelyn Ruiz, who helps with deliveries.

Alberta premier Jason Kenney warned against discriminatory behavior against “certain immigrant Albertans”, the majority of whom work in meat packing facilities, in a Facebook video posted on Wednesday .

“Unfortunately, we have heard stories of people who were not welcomed into businesses, in one case, even they were told to leave a bank, of discriminatory statements online and only of attitudes that are not really not Alberta. “

He then thanked the workers at all the meat factories.

“These meat packing plants are full of people who have taken jobs that many other Canadians would not take. Difficult, hard and manual work without which we would not have food security. “

Anila Lee Yuen, President and CEO of the Center for Newcomers in Calgary, applauds Kenney’s response.

“It is extremely important that our leaders be very vigilant in order to speak out against racism,” she said. “I was very grateful to see this message and to see so many ministers behind Prime Minister Kenney. “

She said her organization heard directly from Cargill employees with experiences of racism.

“There are people who are afraid, they are afraid, they feel like they could be targeted and some of them are. “

SAFETY ALWAYS A CONCERN

After the two-week shutdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak at its plant, Cargill re-opened its doors to workers on Monday with province-approved safety measures in place.

However, Cargill employees and union representatives have expressed concern over the return to work of people so soon after the epidemic, due to the lack of safety precautions and equipment to prevent future spread.

“I can’t say I feel safe while the virus is still there,” a Cargill worker told CTV News. ” I do not know how I feel. “

Many children at the Gwyn-Morris daycare center have parents who work at the Cargill plant, while half of its own employees are infected with the virus.

“We don’t think we should be open right now,” she said. “We think companies need to consider what the risk factors are.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the situation at the Cargill meat plant is another reminder of how the country needs to do a better job of protecting the health and safety of workers, but insisted that it was a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

Responding to a question about the protests by the meat processor, Trudeau said the federal government will continue to support the provinces in the “continuous flow of food supply chains” and keep workers in these industries safe.

“One of the things that this crisis has shown us is various vulnerabilities both in our supply chains, but also in terms of people working in jobs that we find extremely important across the country to feed Canadians and keep our economy running. “Said Trudeau at his press conference on Thursday.

He also welcomed yesterday’s announcement in the agri-food sector, which included a $ 77.5 million fund for food processors to purchase personal protective equipment and upgrade their facilities to meet the rules of physical distance.

New Democrat MP Heather McPherson raised the situation in Cargill in a virtual question and answer session this week, asking Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland if workers like those at the plant feel unsafe. returning to work would still be eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, Employment Insurance or the Canada Student Emergency Benefit.

“With regard to the Cargill plant, this is an issue to which our government is very closely linked,” said Freeland.

“No Canadian worker at any time should feel compelled to go to work in unsafe conditions, at a time when the coronavirus is even truer. The government should of course not penalize workers for doing the right thing and refusing to go to work in unsafe conditions. “

UNCLEAR WHO WILL RECEIVE A SALARY RESEARCH

On Thursday, Trudeau unveiled a long-overdue wage supplement for essential workers, a cost agreement shared with the provinces and territories to keep employees at work.

Trudeau said the federal government will implement three-quarters of the top-up, with the provinces and territories covering the remaining 25%, for a total of $ 4 billion.

“We are counting on these workers more than ever and we will be there to support them. It will be up to each province and territory to determine who exactly qualifies for this wage increase, but the bottom line is this, if you’re “risking your health to advance this country and making the minimum wage, you deserve a raise” said Trudeau.

However, it will be up to the provinces to determine which workers are eligible for the benefit, which means that it is not certain that Cargill workers will actually get a raise.

With files from Rachel Aiello of CTV News, Glen McGregor and Ben Cousins

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