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Canadian pork processor, union workers strike deal

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Number of pigs awaiting slaughter approached 180,000 during height of crisis.

Canadian pork processor Olymel announced this week that an agreement in principle has been reached between the company and the Olymel Workers Union in Vallée-Jonction, Quebec, a deal that could potentially end a strike that began in April. Union workers are expected to vote on the agreement this week.

With the prospect of a settlement, Olymel said company management has agreed to postpone sending Sept. 1 dismissal letters to more than 500 employees assigned to the evening shift at the Vallée-Jonction plant.

"The decision to abolish the evening shift announced on August 24 is therefore suspended to allow the union leaders to organize a general assembly of its members and will remain suspended until the vote of the members of the Olymel Workers Union in Vallée-Jonction (CSN) is held,” said Paul Beauchamp, first vice president at Olymel. “The closing of the evening shift had become necessary in the prospect of an indefinite continuation of the strike. This difficult decision will be abandoned in the event of a vote in favor of the agreement in principle reached today, which would receive a favorable recommendation from the union executives.”

He continued, “A favorable vote will end a strike that entered its fifth month yesterday and has had extremely negative economic impacts on the company and the region and still poses the threat of humanitarian slaughter and food waste, in addition to coercing several Quebec pork producers under unacceptable breeding conditions.”

Olymel management will not make any further comment until the vote by union members.

Initially, the union was seeking a wage increase of 35% in the first year of the agreement with an increase to 51% by the end of the deal. However, Olymel said in June that it already led its competitors in worker compensation by 21.7%.

According to Les Éleveurs de porcs du Québec, the pork producers’ association in the region, the end of the strike marks an important step that could provide relief to pork producers facing significant challenges. However, the impacts of the strike will be felt for months to come, even if the slaughter rate will resume shortly, the group added.

“In a few weeks, the number of pigs awaiting slaughter exploded, approaching 180,000 at the height of the crisis,” the association said. The Valley–Junction plant processes 37,000 market hogs a week.

David Duval, president of the association, commented: “In the short term, it will be essential for Olymel to prioritize the slaughter of Quebec pigs to allow our producers to regain control and optimize the conditions of their animals on the farms. In the medium term, a whole questioning will have to take place. We intend to discuss with the government the importance of legislative modernization to maintain the right to strike without jeopardizing the well-being of our animals. I dare to remind you that we work with living beings, the reality is not the same as that of a bolt factory.”

Jim Long, president and chief executive officer of Genesus Inc., recently noted that the Olymel plant closure was leading to more small pigs and market hogs being sent to the U.S. On Aug. 23, Long reported that U.S. weekly data showed market hogs coming to the U.S. were up 14,000 year over year and small pig exports were up 20,000 (up 24%) year over year.

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