The question of identity with South Asian-Canadian Alex Sangha

November 24, 2021

By Calgary Herald

Migrant and refugee workers in Alberta’s meat-packing plants face dangerous working conditions and precarious employment, according to new research from York University.

The research, conducted by Bronwyn Bragg and Jennifer Hyndman, alongside Calgary advocacy group ActionDignity, involved interviews and surveys with immigrant workers in the facilities.

Those workers reported unsafe working conditions in meat-packing facilities, an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty-two per cent of survey respondents said they or someone in their home had tested positive for the virus, and 34 per cent reported other work-related injuries.

“This industry is a high-risk environment for the spread of COVID-19, but we also know once you dig into the literature and the data that this industry has a long history of being what we would call 3D work: dirty, difficult and dangerous,” Bragg said.

“There are high rates of worker injury, and that really came through in our data.”

The research, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, began in the wake of Alberta’s first wave of COVID-19, when massive virus outbreaks ravaged two meat plants in the province.

Nearly 950 workers at Cargill’s High River plant tested positive for COVID-19, making it North America’s largest virus outbreak at the time. Three deaths were linked to the outbreak: workers Benito Quesada, 51, and Hiep Bui, 67, as well as Armando Sallegue, 71, the father of a worker. A separate outbreak at the JBS meat-packing plant in Brooks the same spring saw more than 650 workers test positive.

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