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

West Kootenay SAR crews rescue injured mountain biker near Rossland

Crews were called in to help after the biker seriously injured himself at around noon Saturday

City of Rossland looks to implement mail ballot voting

City said new procedure could make voting easier and more accessible for residents

Suspected fentanyl and cocaine seized during RCMP search in Castlegar

Two men were taken into police custody during the search warrant

Morning start: This is the fastest growing city in the Kootenays

Here is your Kootenays’ morning start for Monday, May 25

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything

B.C.’s top doctor says that what health officials have learned this round will guide response in future

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Most Read