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Conestoga Meat Packers institutes new coronavirus measures, increases pay premium, upon reopening

A CMP employee in the required uniform for production. [Submitted]

In operation as of  May 4 after a week’s hiatus, the Conestoga Meat Packers plant in Breslau is working its way back to full capacity.

During the week off, the facility saw the installation of more than 150 dividers on the plant floor to support physical distancing. In that vein, additional break areas were installed, with plexiglass table dividers in place in all lunch rooms. As well, eye, nose and mouth coverings were instituted for every position, with thermal imaging equipment in place to assist with temperature screening, the company said.

“During the week of closure, activities were centred on enhancing processes, procedures and facilities to provide maximum safety during the pandemic, as our first priority is keeping our employees safe while they are in the workplace,” the company said in a statement.

To date, there have been 44 cases of COVID-19 among Conestoga employees, a number that includes those who continue to self-isolate at home as well as those that are resolved and who have started to return to work.

When the plant closed for a week starting April 28, there were 11 cases among some 1,200 employees at the plant, with the additional cases identified later on due to priority testing of health-care workers and in long-term care facilities, Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the region’s acting medical officer of health, said Friday.

Though the plant was up and running again on May 4, it will be a while before a full complement is back at work, said Conestoga Meat Packers president Arnold Drung in an email.

“We don’t have everyone back yet and attendance is still somewhat variable due to a number of factors. We have installed barriers where physical distancing is challenging,” he said “[The] plant is not at full capacity yet – will be ramped up as staffing and market opportunities allow.”

When workers returned May 4, they found the company was paying a $4 per hour premium, doubling the “hero pay” bonus of $2 per hour that had been in place as of March 23. The increase was in line with what the province had announced for other frontline workers.

“This extra premium is recognition of the important work that our team is doing feeding the people of Ontario and keeping the Ontario farm and livestock sector in operation. They are Conestoga heroes,” said Drung.

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