The Cargill poultry processing plant in London, Ont., is halting production effective Tuesday in response to a growing COVID-19 outbreak at the plant.
Cargill, which employs roughly 900 people at its London facility, says at least 82 active cases are currently associated with the outbreak.
It’s a dramatic climb from just nine cases the Middlesex-London Health Unit reported one week ago.
Cargill says the step to temporarily idle the facility was taken “out of an abundance of caution,” adding that employees will receive a weekly guarantee of 36 hours of pay during the shutdown.
The company also says it has made testing available to all employees and is “working closely” with the MLHU and other health units to ensure that appropriate health measures are in place.
“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of Cargill employees, we have decided to temporarily idle our London protein facility,” says Derek Hill, general manager for Cargill’s London plant.
“This was a difficult decision for our team who are operating an essential service and are committed to delivering food for families across Canada and ensuring the resilience of our supply chain. But ultimately, our employee’s safety and well-being come first. They are everyday heroes on the front lines of our food system.”
Tim Deelstra, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union locals 175 and 633, says operations will be paused for 14 days to allow time for cleaning and to implement any additional health and safety measures.
“It’s a fairly large outbreak that’s occurred at the plant and people are worried about their health and safety. And as the union that represents the workers, we’re also worried about them,” Deelstra told Global News.
He adds that numerous health and safety precautions were already in place at the plant, but the union has been pushing for vaccinations for workers in industrial food and in food retail sectors.
“It’s fairly clear that they’re doing essential work for all of us here in the province of Ontario and in Canada,” he said.
“So we’re continuing that call and are trying to work with all levels of government to get these workers priority access to a vaccine.”
Cargill has been faced with outbreaks across Canada, including the country’s single biggest COVID-19 outbreak at its High River, Alta., facility which involved at least 945 cases among workers. At least two employees at the High River beef processing plant have died of COVID-19.
More recently, its meat processing plant in Guelph, Ont., was shut down for roughly two weeks in December due to an outbreak there involving at least 143 cases.
–With files from Global News’ Jill Croteau, Adam MacVicar, Heather Yourex-West and Matt Carty