On the line
On her first day at the Olymel Pork Plant, a large, busy industrial warehouse in northeast Red Deer, the first thing Analyn felt was pity when she saw tractor-trailers. ride on the field, carrying the pigs for the day’s operations.
Oh, those poor pigs, Analyn thought, watching the howling pigs being dragged from the truck into the factory. But what can I do? I need to work.
This was not where Analyn saw herself working when she first moved with her family to rural Alberta from the Philippines years ago.
After the divorce of Analyn and her husband, she and her children moved to Red Deer – an oil, gas and agricultural hub located halfway between Edmonton and Calgary.
Finding work in the community was difficult. Analyn had limited success until a friend suggested he apply to the meat factory, which at the time employed around 1,200 workers.
It was a diverse workforce – there were workers from China, Vietnam, Ukraine, South America – but most importantly, there were Filipino workers like Analyn.
” This is a difficult work. And I thought I would only work there for a year, ”she said. “It’s not an easy job. “
Outside the factory, where Analyn saw pigs being transported inside, she has already noticed the smell.
Inside, on the killing floor, it was worse. The smell of blood and feces hung in the air around the carcasses of pigs slaughtered on hooks.
Analyn was tasked with removing the meat from the processing line and putting it in huge cardboard boxes to prepare it for shipment.
A year passed. Then another. Analyn got a raise and was put on the line to cut meat on a conveyor belt.
This is where Analyn started to feel like a machine. Production quotas continued to increase and his work was to follow.
Another worker, Gabriela, said production lines were hectic, with employees working “side by side” and cold. If you are lucky enough to work in one of the colder areas, the cold neutralizes the smell of meat. Glasses sometimes fog up, even before the addition of face masks.
The pieces of meat follow one another: up to 45,000 pigs per week which must be carefully dismantled and placed on polystyrene trays for possible display on a grocery shelf.
“You do all that [with a] millions of things are going on in your head… focusing on the right cut, the next track coming… when we have to clean a net it’s four to five seconds. So it’s boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. You know, it’s fair, it’s so fast, ”said Gabriela.
The repetitive work quickly took its toll on Analyn’s body. She tore her meniscus by bending too much, suffered wrist injuries and saw her hand catch fire.
She said she saw worse injuries among her colleagues. Carpal tunnel syndrome was endemic.
The bloodiest incidents really bothered her, she said, like when a new employee caught her palm in one of the machines, making a hole in it. He did not come back to work.
Sometimes when his co-workers were injured, Analyn said management told them it was their fault for not following safety measures or if the worker had a second job, blamed the injury on the worker. other place of work.
“They will blame the worker. They will make a way, ”Analyn said. “’Maybe this injury is due to your second job.’ They always say that. “
Richard Vigneault, a spokesperson for Olymel, said the company’s goal was to keep workers safe.
« [If] management or staff do not follow the strong safety programs and training they have received, they could be injured, ”he said.
Those who “seriously or repeatedly break” safety rules will sometimes be retrained or face progressive disciplinary action, he said.
The factory sees hundreds of disabling injuries each year, according to Occupational Health and Safety, which enforces provincial workplace safety regulations.
Sean Tucker, associate professor of human resource management at the University of Regina who specializes in worker safety, said that in a meat processing plant, workers are forced to adapt to equipment rather than the reverse.
“The human body is not designed to function in an environment like this,” Tucker said.
“You are engaged in repetitive movements, often putting a lot of pressure on the joints, muscles, tendons. Over time, this can take a toll on the body. “
Tucker said that even for the meat processing industry, Olymel is the only one when it comes to its injury rate.
In 2019, the Olymel plant’s disabling injury rate – which applies to workers injured on the job, requiring medical attention, or unable to work their next shift – was 18.1 per 100 full-time employees versus a rate of 2.9 at Cargill in High River and 6.6 at the JBS Canada beef plant near Brooks, Alta.
In other words, Tucker said, on average, nearly one in five employees at Olymel suffered some sort of injury at the Red Deer plant that year.
“Every time you see a company with a 100%, 150%, 200% higher injury rate, it stands out,” Tucker said. “And that’s not acceptable; it is not normal practice. “
Vigneault said Olymel reduced the total number of disabling injuries from 283 in 2019 to 248 in 2020, but those numbers have yet to be listed in the Alberta OHS database.
The nature and pace of work and injuries have taken their toll on Analyn.
“I’m sad about what’s going on, but I’m just fighting… because I need a job, and I need a good benefit for my kids. [As a] single parent, I need to persevere. “
About a decade later, as the COVID-19 pandemic was in the midst of its second wave in Alberta, Analyn was still at Olymel.
The factory’s workforce had grown by a third since hiring Analyn.
According to the union that represents workers at the plant, about 80 percent of Olymel’s workforce are first-generation Canadians, and about 60 percent of them are Filipino.
For many of the plant’s 1,850 workers, wages are not enough to support a family or send money home – about 60% have a second or third job, according to Alberta Health Services .
Analyn said she was working full-time at Olymel for $ 21 an hour plus 32 overtime hours a month at a second job.