Cargill announced a temporary shut down of its beef plant near High River where officials in the area are dealing with over 400 cases of COVID-19 linked to the plant, including the death of a worker, in High River, Alta., Thursday, April 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

‘Death is so real:’ Immigrant group says meat workers afraid after plant closure

Cargill shut down its plant just north of High River, Alta., earlier this week after an outbreak of COVID-19

An organization that works with immigrants says the temporary closure of a large slaughterhouse in southern Alberta has left many among its largely Filipino workforce fearful for the future.

Cargill shut down its plant just north of High River, Alta., earlier this week after an outbreak of COVID-19 and the death of one employee. The decision put 2,000 employees out of work.

Marichu Antonio from Action Dignity said 70 per cent of the workers at Cargill are Filipino. There are also Mexicans, Chinese and Vietnamese working at the plant.

Her organization, previously known as the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary, assists new Canadians obtain services. She said it has received hundreds of calls from Cargill workers.

Antonio, who is originally from the Philippines, said people are worried about what happens after the plant reopens.

“The possibility of death is so real right now. They know the long-term implications to their families if something happens to them as the main breadwinners, so they’re very worried They’re afraid,” she said.

“They don’t know what their future is and they don’t know what is best for them.”

Antonio said the death of the Cargill worker in her 60s has hit many people hard.

“The woman who passed away was of Vietnamese descent. She took her sick day that Friday and then she was hospitalized Saturday and passed away Sunday.”

Antonio’s organization helped the woman’s husband arrange a funeral.

Cesar Cala, a co-convener of the Filipino Emergency Response Task Force, said a significant number of plant employees are temporary foreign workers here in Canada alone. There are also many with permanent resident status who have their families with them.

He said those who are sending money home often look to save expenses by moving in with other workers.

“Either they rent places or they make living arrangements with other workers from other businesses. It’s a good way to save money.”

The cost savings go beyond living together.

“They car-pool. Most of them live in Calgary, so it saves a lot of money for them to go in a car-pool … five of them going there together and coming back.”

Cala said workers are worried about their health and feeling pressure to head back to work, even if they are still showing symptoms. He said having a steady income is a priority for them.

READ MORE: B.C. has 29 new COVID-19 cases, second poultry plant affected

“For a lot of the (temporary foreign workers), their employment and their status to stay in Canada is tied up to their employment. It’s not just losing their jobs,” he said.

“It might be about losing their status as well. They’ve incurred so much cost coming to Canada and they’re also quite anxious, because there’s no clarity on what’s going to happen and what’s in store.”

Antonio said her group has been urging workers to tell their stories publicly.

“We’ve been asking them … to share their stories and their reality, but they’re afraid that they may not be rehired. There are many stories that they can tell.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusFood

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health and safety regulations to be followed by schools as they reopen Monday

Ministry of Education wrote a letter to parents dated May 28.

B.C. Court of Appeal upholds lower court decision on western boundary of Treaty 8

Several first nations believe the western boundary was and always has been at the Rocky Mountains

School will look a lot different, says Fort St. James Secondary School principal

The principal wrote a letter to parents informing them about what to expect at school on June 1.

7 projects in Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake and Burns Lake receive NKDF funding

Nechako-Kitamaat Development Fund Society announced $139,702 in funding on May 29.

School buses for SD91 to start running from June 1

Parents urged to drop off and pick kids up whenever possible.

George Floyd asphyxiated by sustained pressure: family autopsy

Death sparked a wave of protests across the U.S. and abroad

COVID-19: B.C. commercial landlords can’t evict if they decline rent assistance

Emergency order ‘incentive’ for federal program, Carole James says

Investigators probe death of CN employee at Surrey rail yard

Transportation Safety Board is investigating an ‘occurrence that took place during switching operations’

Trans Mountain starts B.C. leg of pipeline twinning project

Mostly finished in Alberta, Burnaby terminal expanding

Introducing the West Coast Traveller: A voyage of the mind

Top armchair travel content for Alaska, Yukon, BC, Alberta, Washington, Oregon and California!

NDP getting COVID-19 wage subsidy ‘indirectly,’ B.C. Liberal leader says

Andrew Wilkinson says he’s heard no concerns from public

Love flourishes at Peace Arch Park, but COVID-19 concerns loom

South Surrey park becomes only place for international couples to meet

Most Read