Major COVID-19 outbreak at an Olymel meat processing facility in the Beauce region

A pork slaughterhouse and processing plant is testing 160 workers in Vallée-Jonction for coronavirus after dozens of their colleagues were sickened by COVID-19. A 65-year-old worker died.

Union officials report as many as 80 confirmed cases and say one employee has died

The Olymel meat packing plant in Vallée-Jonction, in the Beauce region, is dealing with a major COVID-19 outbreak. ( Guillaume Croteau-Langevin/Radio-Canada)

Workers at an Olymel meat-packing plant in the Beauce region are being tested for COVID-19, after a weekend outbreak infected dozens of employees.

The union representing the facility's 1,200 employees said 80 people have tested positive so far.

"People are still working, but they're worried. There are some who are still waiting for test results," said Martin Maurice, president of the Syndicat des travailleurs d'Olymel Vallée-Jonction.

A 65-year-old worker, who tested positive for COVID-19, died on Tuesday. The company issued a statement mourning the employee's passing and confirmed the test result. It also said "an investigation is underway to determine the exact cause of his death and whether it was related to COVID-19."

The statement also said Olymel called in the regional public health authority over the weekend to undertake a mass testing campaign given "the factory is situated in a red zone and several employees have presented symptoms despite the rigorous application of significant sanitary measures."

The union doesn't dispute the adequacy of the safety procedures inside the plant, but Maurice told Radio-Canada some employees have let their guard down over recent months in common areas like the cafeteria and change rooms.

He also said "the company also has its share of faults," noting that during the first COVID-19 wave it staggered shifts in order to allow enough time for work stations to be properly cleaned. It also limited overtime.

Maurice said neither of those measures have been in place since summer, although he added the company said this week it plans to re-institute the pause between shifts.

He also told Radio-Canada the provincial workplace safety board has been on the premises this week "to correct certain situations."

The union is asking for a temporary closure.

Olymel employs 15,000 people and operates processing facilities in five provinces. It is the largest hog producer in Canada.

The company closed its facility in Yamachiche, near Trois-Rivières, for two weeks this past March, after nine employees tested positive for coronavirus.

Another positive test in August at Olymel's plant in Red Deer, Alta., resulted in the preventive isolation of 13 workers. None tested postitive for COVID-19.

with files from Radio-Canada

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