October 14, 2012
XL Foods recalls 800 laid off workers
By Damien Wood, QMI Agency
BROOKS, Alta. -- Despite laying off 2,000 employees Saturday, XL Foods has told government officials Sunday it plans to continue work towards becoming fully operational again and is recalling some of its workers.
Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson said he was told by company CEO Brian Nilsson Sunday that a shift will run Tuesday.
Around 800 employees will be recalled to work on the second half of approximately 5,100 carcasses, left unprocessed by the Brooks packing plant and unassessed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), a day after it announced most of its employees would be without jobs.
Olson described the government's presence as "aggressive observers" only.
"It's not up to us, we don't have direct control over the issues that need to be dealt with," he said.
XL Foods has been the source of the country's largest beef recall, with about 2,000 products affected and sold 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.
"It's not like CSI where you have the answer by the end of the one-hour show -- it's much more convoluted than that," Olson said.
"I wanted to be re-assured that XL was doing everything it needed to; my primary concern with the layoffs is that it could interfere."
Olson said support for the laid-off workers is available or will be.
The layoffs are a temporary measure, XL Foods has said.
Brooks Mayor Martin Shields said support for affected workers will be needed.
But moreso, Shields wants to see the plant up and running again, saying "the sooner the better."
"If we have 2,000 individuals or families who no longer have income, that's serious," Shields said. "We hope they don't (leave).
"(XL Foods) is going to reopen and then they'll need all the trained staff they've got."
Doug O'Halloran, president of the union representing the workers, called XL Foods' laying people off then calling some back "another black eye" on an industry increasingly battered by this situation.
"It's just another example of how XL doesn't know how to run that plant," he said. "I think they ran a bluff on CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and the CFIA didn't back down."
Nilsson issued a statement Sunday, saying employees are being called back to meet the terms of its temporary licence, demonstrate new enhanced protocols and return to normal operation.
"We look forward to actively working with CFIA to bring this to a viable and timely resolution," Nilsson said.
Before limited operations were halted, shifts worked Thursday, Friday and Saturday on a wave of carcasses under close CFIA observation.
On Twitter: @SUNDamienWood