Quebec’s hog farmers now want Premier Francois Legault to step in on a months-long strike at a major pork packing plant after its workers rejected a tentative deal between their union and employer.
Workers at Olymel’s plant at Vallee-Jonction, about 60 km southeast of Quebec City, met Tuesday evening to vote on an agreement in principle reached last Friday between the company and the Syndicat des travailleurs d’Olymel Vallee-Jonction (STOVJ), which represents about 1,050 plant employees.
Voting via secret ballot at an outdoor meeting at Vallee-Jonction’s Autodrome Chaudiere racetrack, the employees voted 57 per cent against the deal, union brass said in a release Tuesday.
“We will therefore notify the employer and we will return to the negotiation table” with provincially-appointed conciliators, STOVJ president Martin Maurice said.
Provincial Labour Minister Jean Boulet responded to Tuesday’s vote with the appointment Wednesday of Jean Poirier as a new “special mediator” to sort out the Vallee-Jonction strike as “quickly as possible.”
In a tweet, Boulet said Poirier, well known for mediating in previous labour disputes in the province, has a “vast” knowledge of the industry and the qualifications to resolve the impasse between the parties.
Legault, in a separate tweet Wednesday, said the union and company are both close to resolving the dispute and he “appeal(ed) to their sense of responsibility” to do so.
‘Credibility at stake’
With the Vallee-Jonction plant’s weekly kill capacity of 35,000 hogs offline since April 28 due to the strike, les Eleveurs de porcs du Quebec, the province’s hog producer group, now estimates about 150,000 market-weight hogs are backed up on farms awaiting slaughter as of Wednesday.
The group said previously it has been working with Olymel to try and manage the backlog, by shipping animals to slaughter outside Quebec and/or selling off piglets to free up barn space.
Now, however, after an “unheard of” 23 conciliation sessions between the union and Olymel, Eleveurs de porcs said the province has a responsibility not only to hog farmers and their families but to taxpayers, given the provincial government’s recent investment of about $150 million in the company.
The workers’ rejection of Friday’s deal “is a slap in the face for us producers, who are victims of this conflict,” Eleveurs de porcs president David Duval said in a separate release Wednesday.
“The financial losses are enormous, the psychological distress of producers is omnipresent, pigs are piling up on farms; we fear for the well-being of our animals, not to mention the spectre of food waste that looms on the horizon.”
Olymel, its parent Sollio Co-operative, the STOVJ, its parent union CSN and the provincial government all have roles to play in resolving the dispute, Duval said. “Their credibility is at stake and, by extension, the image of all of Quebec’s pork production.”
On hog farmers and their families, the pressure is now “enormous,” Marcel Groleau, president of Quebec’s general farm organization the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), said in Wednesday’s release.
“Financial losses accumulate, their animals suffer; they are short of solutions and at the end of their resources. We feel the distress is growing among some even more today, when many believed the conflict was settled.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network