Are Canadian Meat Processing Workers Being Exploited?

Fun fact: Canada is third on the list of top pork-exporting countries worldwide, and its beef industry is fourth on the list of beef-exporting countries

But you know what’s not fun? 

It’s exploitation in the Canadian meat processing industry. There’s a lot of mistreatment of workers, low wages, and poor working conditions.

So, discover the dark side of the meat processing industry to learn the red flags to avoid when looking for an employer. 

Red Flags For Meat Processing Professionals To Look Out For:

Poor Workplace Conditions

The conditions in Canada’s meat processing plants are horrid and callous, resulting in high rates of factory accidents. Namely, in 2019, Alberta's meat processing and packaging sector had the highest rates of injuries, at 19%, from a survey of all manufacturing sectors in the province. 

The Olymel’s Red Deer plant was among the worst plants surveyed, with 283 injuries in 2019 and 248 injuries in 2020. 

A smorgasbord of meat processing plants in Canada follows the same trend. 

Workplace accidents happen due to the onerous conditions at the plants where meat processing professionals operate in wet and cold surroundings with considerable temperature changes. 

Over and above that, there’s always the smell of blood and stressed animals about to be slaughtered that have inherent biological and physical hazards. 

Poor Pay

Industry statistics show that the average wage in the meat processing sector is C$21.51 per hour as of 2019, according to a WSWS article. For instance, in duBreton, class 1 workers were paid an hourly rate of C$14.85 after two years of work, while in Cargill, meat processing professionals were paid C$20.10 after three years of work.

Even more so, exploitation in the Canadian meat processing industry continues to manifest in significant pay cuts and freezes, pushing workers to work more than one job. 

Unfortunately, poor pay and bad conditions, understaffing and high turnover are synonymous with meat processing in Canada. The result is that the remaining employees are often overworked, working longer shifts with meagre wages. 

Immigrant Workforce

Before the pandemic, the country had a deficit of 28,000 meat workers. To avert the labour shortage, meat processors turned to immigrant workers, who are often at the beck and call of their bosses.

Regrettably, the precarious status of thousands of immigrant meat processing workers prevents them from fighting for their right to a safe workplace and good pay, granting them the devil’s bargain.

The employers know this, and to top it off, they neglect their despondent employees. Case in point, during the outbreak, an employer told some foreign workers to visit a foodbank as they had no lunch money. 


Exposure to the Coronavirus

During the pandemic, meat processing factories were death traps for tens of thousands of workers who still went to work. 

For instance, there were three deaths at Olymel in Red Deer and three at Cargill High River, where an outbreak in 2020 resulted in 949 infections out of 2000 meat processing workers. 

Woefully, all the infected employees retained the long-term effects of the disease, including respiratory issues, fatigue, and loss of senses. 

Surprisingly, some bosses dared to ask meat plant workers who had contracted the virus to return to work instead of going into quarantine while waiting for their test results. 

Who’s to say they won’t back up the wrong tree when another novel virus hits?

The cold, damp surroundings of a meat processing plant are an ideal breeding ground for airborne virus transmission, and such is the case with COVID-19. To that end, getting the workers adequate PPE is paramount to their safety, but as you can see with the issue of women’s PPE, employers have failed. 

Also, social distancing is almost impossible because of how assembly lines are designed, increasing the chances of infection. 

Seemingly, with 83% full vaccination and 90% 1-dose vaccination rates in the country, it’s unlikely to see serious coronavirus cases at factories.

However, vaccination against coronavirus doesn’t solve the underlying problem, the safety of the workforce against future airborne viruses.

What’s the Government’s Response?

Meat and Poultry Ontario and EIO Solutions have partnered to create and implement human resources tools for supporting the province's meat and poultry processing plants, enhancing policy development, recruitment, retention, and training. 

Once successful, the initiative will ensure that workers' plight at meat factories is considered and proper workplace policies are set, ensuring exploitation in the Canadian meat processing industry is water under the bridge. 

Over and beyond that, in 2021, the government of Canada invested C$12.2m in 42 meat processing companies. The funding was aimed at protecting the health and well-being of meat processing professionals against the COVID-19 outbreak.

What’s Your Plan?

Avoid low wages and poor working conditions only by working with meat processing employers who care for workers’ well-being.

But finding the right employer might feel like a tall order without the right tool, a platform that shows you insight into the compensation, benefits, and culture of the company you want to work for, and such is the nature of QTalent. 

Food & beverage processing professionals can sign up at the bottom of the page!

Our intuitive algorithm allows you to find the right match for you, letting you use location, compensation, and benefits to filter the kind of food and beverage manufacturing employer you want.

And do you know what makes us stand out even more? 

You don't need to incessantly customize your resume for every job application. We decided that one resume with a personalised profile was enough. So just search, find, and hit send.

Sign up today to be notified when the platform goes live!

Elton Mwangi


Elton has been a writer and has contributed his expertise to the HR industry for the last 5 years. He's passionate about working with companies that utilize HR technology to improve the employee experience and the future of the workforce. He starts his morning with a cup of joe and the latest article from HR Morning and SHRM to equip his audience with quality blog content.

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