Canadian Poultry Magazine

Poultry workers’ union calls for more action

By United Food and Commercial Workers   

Features Processing Production Poultry Production Production

April 30, 2015 – The country’s largest poultry workers’ union, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada), is calling on federal and provincial governments to introduce specific protections for front-line worker safety and to ensure that poultry workers are
an integral part in the planning of any and all programs, regulations and strategies to prevent future outbreaks of the avian influenza virus.
Specifically, UFCW Canada is calling on governments in Canada to take similar measures that were taken more than a decade ago in the United States, where initiatives were put in place to better identify and prevent outbreak risks by better protecting front-line workers and involving them as key participants in the production chain.
“There are more than 14,000 people working in poultry processing facilities across Canada, processing millions pounds of poultry every week, and in the event of avian flu, we must have a plan to protect these workers, and the impact on their families and communities,” says Paul Meinema, the national president of UFCW Canada, which represents more than 8,000 poultry workers across the country.

To date, federal and provincial governments have failed to include front line poultry workers in the discussion of the avian influenza pandemic. 

“If we are to avoid a pandemic, Canada’s plan to contain the bird flu must have
a worker component.” UFCW Canada is calling on governments to consider:

–  Direct contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces and
   objects is considered the main route of human infection. This kind of
   direct contact is the norm for workers in the poultry industry. A
   poultry worker immunization program will prevent the spread of the
   disease and assure the public that a meaningful step has been taken to
   contain the disease at its source.

–  Poultry workers are in the best position to visually identify sick birds
   and report suspected cases of bird flu. These front line workers are the
   nation’s best defense against a pandemic, but they will need
   whistleblower protections in order to avoid discrimination and to assure
   that profit doesn’t override health and safety.

 – Many immigrant, undocumented, or non-English or French-speaking poultry
   workers are unaware of workplace safety regulations. This population is
   unlikely to ask for safety and health protections such as respirators or
   flu shots. Some of these workers are precarious and vulnerable worker
   who are in Canada as part of the Temporary Workers Program; as such, we
   must reach out to these workers with health and safety information and
   empower them with the confidence to exercise their health, safety and
   labour rights.

“Protecting the health and safety of poultry workers should be a paramount
concern for our governments, as should protecting the meat processing
industry’s tremendous contribution to Canada’s economy, which suffers a serious
setback with each new outbreak,” adds Meinema.

These worker issues are of paramount importance. Worker organizations, like unions, should be consulted and integrated into the effort. The UFCW stands ready to work with all interested stakeholders, including worker representatives, government agencies, and poultry companies.

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