Montreal

Quebec pork producers frustrated as labour dispute between Olymel and union drags on

Olymel workers have been off the job since the end of April, and in the months since, more than 150,000 pigs have been waiting — and growing — in the barns of pork producers across the province. 

Producers say they may have no choice but to euthanize more than 150,000 pigs

Pork producers says the drawn-out conflict between Olymel and its workers is leading to poorer conditions for pigs because they're growing in number — and size — in barns. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Quebec pork producers say the nearly four-month-long conflict between the meat processing company Olymel and its workers is putting the welfare of animals at stake.

Olymel workers have been off the job since the end of April, and in the months since, more than 150,000 pigs have been waiting — and growing — in the barns of pork producers across the province. 

René Roy is a vice-chair for the Canadian Pork Council, president of the Beauce pork producers' union and a pork producer in Beauceville.

He said the union's decision to reject Olymel's latest offer was a "shock," especially considering the situation on farms is so dire.

"We are really disappointed with this situation," Roy said. "We thought with this kind of agreement between the two parties, it could be resolved." 

While producers typically send their pigs to Quebec processing companies — of which the Olymel Vallée-Jonction plant is one of the largest — having them shut down means sending animals much further to out-of-province slaughterhouses, driving up costs and negatively impacting the pigs. 

Producers say they're running out of ways to house the animals comfortably, and Roy said things at his farm are degrading with more pigs taking up space in the barn and the summer's persistent high temperatures. 

"That means there's a higher level of mortality, which reduces the welfare, which is completely against our values as producers," he said. "It's a really bad situation for producers."

Roy said while pigs used to be separated by size, they've gotten mixed up in the barns where the ventilation systems are overworked because they're over capacity. 

Roy also said producers are reaching the point where they will have no choice but to euthanize some of the pigs if the conflict isn't resolved soon. 

The labour dispute between Olymel and its workers has also led to millions of dollars in lost revenue for pork producers who have to foot the bill for transporting their product further away, not to mention absorbing the cost of animals that die in their barns because of the harsher conditions.

A striking worker outside an Olymel meat plant in Quebec's Beauce region holds a sign that says, 'We are not slaves.' Workers decry bad working conditions and low salaries in the strike that has lasted more than three months. (Sebastien Vachon/Radio-Canada)

 Premier François Legault has called for an end to the conflict between Olymel and its workers. 

He took to Twitter asking both the company and the union to consider their responsibilities, while the province has also appointed a special mediator to help resolve the months-long dispute. 

Roy said that isn't enough, and he wants to see action from the government. 

"We are urging the parties, which involves the government, and obviously Olymel and the union, to find a solution," he said. 

Roy said he's been finding creative solutions to make space for more and bigger pigs, but that not all producers have been able to do the same. 

"I have discussed with other producers and they are saying they will face a wall next week," he said. 

Quebec's pork producers are worried. They say that the drawn out work conflict between Olymel and its union is affecting the well-being of their animals. Guest host Kim Garritty checks in with René Roy, president of the Beauce Pork Producers Union. He says he may have no choice but to euthanize some of his drift. 7:45

With files from Quebec AM and Franca Mignacca

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