April 26, 2020
Plant workers in Newfoundland and Labrador are raising the alarm on protocols that put their health and safety at risk as companies push to prematurely begin operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a release issued Sunday afternoon, the Association of Seafood Producers (ASP) falsely claim that FFAW members want to shut the fishery down in favour of federal supports.
“We’ve made considerable strides in developing safe work practices for harvesters that have been vetted by the Chief Medical Officer. Harvesters are working towards a fishery, but both harvesters and plant workers need to feel safe going to work before a fishery can open. Right now, companies are planning on trucking in crab from outside of the province despite the serious concerns for health and safety in Newfoundland and Labrador,” says Keith Sullivan, FFAW-Unifor President.
“Ironically, as ASP talks about wanting to get a fishery started, they are blatantly disrespecting harvesters throughout our province by refusing to negotiate with them on the price of snow crab,” says Sullivan.
ASP is charging ahead with inadequate safety protocols for processing shellfish that puts the health and safety of workers and their families at risk. Contrary to provincial Occupational Health and Safety regulations, Joint Workplace Occupational Committees, legislated by the province, have not been contacted or involved in the construct of these weak and inconsistent procedures. Most concerning to workers is a lack of standardization of Personal Protective Equipment, particularly masks to protect workers.
“In March, when FFAW struck a committee with ASP to develop best practices, we had a high degree of comfort with ASP’s proposed use of N-95 respirator masks in the processing industry,” said Greg Pretty, FFAW-Unifor Industrial Director.
“However, since they rolled out their Standard Operation Procedures, there are no N95 masks included, only references to non-descript masks and surgical masks. We addressed the deficiency in a note to ASP in early April but to date ASP has not responded to workers concerns,” said Pretty.
Yesterday’s announcement from the federal government gives millions in funding to fish processors in addition to the 75% wage subsidy they are already receiving. FFAW-Unifor has called on processing companies to use all new funding to invest in adequate health and safety equipment for workers, including proper masks. This must be in place before plant workers will feel safe returning to work.
“Workers expect to be provided with the best possible protection against COVID-19 infection. We should be learning from the horrific, deadly mistakes already occurring in food production in other parts of Canada. Human health should trump the box-ticking exercise currently masquerading as Standard Operating Procedures. However, the Companies are determined to get crab processed despite the pandemic and despite the immense risk to plant worker and community health,” concluded Pretty.
FFAW-Unifor has written Minister of WorkplaceNL, Tom Osborne, for a response on the crisis and has requested the Department outline how proper Occupational Health and Safety inspections will take place in fish processing plants during the pandemic. A petition posted Saturday night calling on the provincial government to prohibit bringing in outside crab for processing has already garnered over 2,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
For media inquiries, please contact Courtney Glode, FFAW-Unifor Communications at [email protected] or 709-743-4445.