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

Saanich teen launches free online tutoring website

School Helpers matches volunteer tutors with students

People-less protest in Victoria holds space for victims of police brutality, systematic racism

People are asked to come learn the names of the lives lost to the hands of racism

VIDEO: View Royal resident spots cougar in nearby backyard

B.C. Conservation notified about early Thursday morning sighting

Victoria police arrest two people during ‘tweet-a-long’ Strike Force operation

VicPD offering ‘behind the scenes’ look at the operation

Greater Victoria tourism industry ‘can’t wait any longer’ for financial aid

Saanich mayor, business owners call on provincial, federal governments for tourism-specific aid

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

North Island recreation camping site closed due to vandalism

Damage happens every year, forcing site manager to reallocate improvement budget to repairs

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

Man found dead in his tent at Island homeless camp

Facebook posts tell of personal struggles and attempts to stay clean and sober

New study is first full list of species that only exist in Canada

Almost 40 per cent of them are critically imperilled or imperilled and eight are already extinct

Most Read