The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will order non-meat inspectors into meat plants under threat of discipline, according to the union representing agriculture workers.
The agency has instructed some of its non-meat-inspection staff to train up to be deployed to meat slaughter plants that have seen outbreaks of COVID-19, the Agriculture Union said in a statement Monday, asserting that the federal food-safety agency will treat refusals as acts of insubordination.
Union president Fabian Murphy called the approach unacceptable.
“CFIA is ordering its staff to work in facilities that obviously are not safe, and without the proper personal protective gear,” Murphy said in the release.
The union says 18 of 37 inspectors working at the Cargill plant in High River, Alta., have tested positive for the virus, and so have three of six inspectors at another plant.
In a statement about ongoing plant closures due to COVID-19, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said Sunday it is important essential workers feel safe.
“We fully recognize the health concerns of workers in certain meat plants. As with all essential workers — proper measures must be in place, if workers can continue to provide essential services to Canadians during these critical times,” the minister said.
In a similar statement about plant closures, the CFIA said the agency is “committed to protecting the health and safety of its employees while maintaining critical inspection services.”
A wave of COVID-19 infections has hit meat-packing plants across the country.
Working conditions for employees in the plants are a provincial responsibility but the federal inspectors are there to make sure the food they produce is safe for consumers.
“We need the prime minister or a senior elected person to intervene to ensure their own staff, federal inspectors are safe,” Murphy said.
The Agriculture Union says it’s reached out to ministers on the matter but has not had a response.
The union also raised concerns the CFIA has assigned inspectors to more than one processing facility, which could encourage the spread of the virus from plant to plant.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
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