Alberta Minister of Agriculture reacts to XL Foods layoffs
CALGARY -- Foods has laid off 2,000 employees from its crippled Brooks plant in the aftermath of the Canada's largest-ever beef recall.
The Brooks plant closed three weeks ago, in the beginning phase of an ongoing E. coli contamination scare that's grown to include about 2,000 products.
Saturday, the company announced the layoffs, which it says are temporary.
"For the past three weeks employees have received full pay on their 32-hour weekly guarantee with few scheduled shifts available," XL Foods co-CEO Brian Nilsson said in a statement.
"We have paid our valued team members out of a commitment to our workforce and to assist them through this difficult time."
Last week, federal authorities allowed XL Foods to resume limited operation under the supervision of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
On Friday and Saturday, CFIA inspectors oversaw carcass cutting and E. coli controls when, according to the agency, the company decided to suspend operations again.
"Unfortunately, the company decided to stop operations after only cutting about half the carcasses," the CFIA said in a statement.
"At this time, we are unable to complete our assessment. We are ready to continue our assessment as soon as the company resumes activities."
The CFIA said normal operations will resume when XL Foods demonstrates "that they can produce safe food."
Workers learned of the layoffs Saturday afternoon, according to United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 president Doug O'Halloran.
O'Halloran said they thought the plant was getting back on track, not further away from it.
"It's a pretty big shock to everyone, but especially to the workers," he said.
"Some of those workers are going to have to leave town and get a job somewhere else ... people in Brooks live paycheque to paycheque."
It's not a good time for Brooks, O'Halloran added: If there's no money, there's no money spent in the small southern Alberta city, located about 186 km southeast of Calgary.
XL Foods has been paying wages during the shutdown and O'Halloran believes the smarter business decision would have been to pay them at least another week -- ideally until the plant is back to normal operations.
"I think this was another knee-jerk reaction," he said.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz issued a statement shortly after the announcement.
"My thoughts are with the workers and the community affected by this private sector business decision," Ritz said.
"Consumer confidence is critical for Canada's beef industry, and that's why we won't compromise when it comes to the safety of Canadians' food."
"I understand that the company has announced a measure on a temporary basis."
Meanwhile, XL Foods said it is continuing to work with the CFIA to rectify the ongoing issue at the plant.
About 2,000 products have been listed in the recalls, at a variety of stores spanning very nearly every province in Canada and a large number of states south of the border.
Fifteen people have fallen ill with E. coli since tainted beef was first discovered in September.
U.S. authorities, meanwhile, are preparing an evaluation of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency later this month.
Guy Gravel, spokesman for the CFIA, said Friday the assessment is routine and not related to the E. coli outbreak at Alberta's XL Foods.
On Twitter: @SUNDamienWood