Quebec labour minister steps in as meat plant strike could lead to euthanization of 150,000 pigs

·3 min read
Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says he's called a meeting between both sides of the ongoing labour dispute at the Olymel pork processing plant in the Beauce region.  (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says he's called a meeting between both sides of the ongoing labour dispute at the Olymel pork processing plant in the Beauce region. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The strike at the Olymel slaughterhouse and pork processing plant in the Beauce is nearing its fourth month, and Quebec's labour minister says he's had enough.

On Wednesday, Jean Boulet took to social media and said he's called a meeting between representatives of both the employer and the union in hopes of finding a resolution.

"The situation is critical for pig farmers and we won't accept to go through another episode of food waste," Boulet said in a tweet.

"The [two] parties have to reach an agreement. It has to stop."

Sebastien Vachon/Radio-Canada
Sebastien Vachon/Radio-Canada

About 1,100 workers at the plant in Vallée-Jonction, Que., have been on strike since late April.The factory is one of the largest in the province, receiving between 35,000 and 37,000 pigs every week.

Eleven days ago, 57 per cent of the workers rejected an agreement in principle the two parties had come to. Working conditions and salary are among the main sticking points.

The labour dispute is a nightmarish scenario for pork producers, who say they have been saddled with about 150,000 pigs they are unable to send to the slaughterhouse.

Farmers say they may have no choice but to euthanize them.

Either we make a deal or 500 jobs get cut, employer says

On Tuesday, Olymel issued an ultimatum to the union, threatening to abolish the evening shift at the plant if a deal isn't reached by Sunday.

Cutting that shift would result in 500 jobs lost.

"Four-month notices of termination would then be sent to the employees affected by this decision in accordance with the labour rules in Quebec," Olymel said in a press release.

Company spokesperson Richard Vigneault told CBC's Quebec AM that Olymel has come to agreements twice amid the dozens of conciliation meetings of the last four months, and it's time for the union to take responsibility for the impact of the prolonged dispute.

"We're working with living animals and we can't wait anymore," he said.

While the union responded that Olymel seems to be more concerned about pigs than its workers, Vigneault said it was time someone made a decision to move the negotiations forward.

He also said the company is still open to adjustments, but it cannot increase monetary offerings because that would compromise the plant's viability.

"Somebody has to be responsible somewhere, and it's not true that we can run a facility that is losing money because people are demanding, demanding, demanding," Vigneault also said.

The union representing the workers — which is affiliated with the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) — said it believes negotiation is still a viable path toward resolution.

"It's not the first time Olymel decided to threaten its workers of closing down and try to divide members of the union by making them fear job cuts," said Martin Maurice, the union's president.

"We showed up [to meetings] with the special mediator with the intention of negotiating a new deal in good faith."

Maurice also said the failure of negotiations cannot be put on the backs of workers and the union, when nearly 15 nears of difficult working conditions and few pay increases are what caused the issue to come to a head.

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