Working Conditions in Slaughterhouses

In 1997-98 Maple Leaf Foods initiated a major transition from local or regional facilities to more highly centralized and concentrated plants in a few centres and at the same time aggressively cut wages. Workers resisted through a long strike-lockout involving plants in Edmonton, North Battleford, and Brantford, but were forced to make major concessions. Globalization had lowered the wage baseline to that found in the USA and other countries with weaker (or no) unions.


At the same time wages were dropping, lines were speeding up as meatpackers increased the number of animals killed and processed each day. Workers stand in cold damp conditions during their shifts, and are susceptible to numerous injuries as a result:

  • cuts
  • repetitive strain injuries
  • soreness due to working in cold
  • slips and falls
  • antibiotic resistant infections
  • diseases – such as Progressive Inflammatory Neuropathy (swine brain disease), Salmonella , campylobacter, and Yersinia Enterocolitica *Wage reductions/line speedups
  • Wage reductions are related to the increase in trade.
    From “Free Trade: Is it working for farmers?
    “Packing plant pay (representative starting wage) in 1989 was $9.38/hour and in 2002 was $9.65/hour. When adjusted for inflation, starting wages at many plants are down sharply. Packers are using their growing market power to push up prices to consumers, push down prices to farmers, and push down wages for workers. In the wake of the NAFTA, packers have argued that Canadian wages must be competitive with U.S. wages. U.S. wages, in turn, must be competitive with Mexican wages. Some Canadian packers, unable to attract workers, are bringing in workers from Mexico.”

  • Labour Pains in Brandon by Todd Scarth, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (pdf)

Labour_Brandon.pdf34.72 KB