The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Workers Battling Avian Flu Deserve Respect from
While the battle to eradicate the avian flu virus being waged by the
Canadian Food Inspection Agency winds to a successful close, the
agency’s management refuses to recognize the employees who are on the
front lines working under exceptionally harsh and stressful conditions
to protect the well-being of Canadians and the safety of our food
Here in BC, the Fraser Valley covers over 100 square kilometers and is
the most important region for poultry farming in the province. Since
the beginning of the year, more than 40 farms have been identified as
being infected by the deadly influenza outbreak. All the birds within a
three km radius around those farms had to be eliminated, following very
strict procedures to prevent the spread of the disease. Millions of
birds were destroyed.
The members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada working at CFIA
have been at the forefront of this prevention campaign since it began
When the outbreak first hit, the CFIA Fraser Valley regional office did
not have enough staff to carry out such a monumental task, and more
than 300 CFIA employees had to be brought in from other regions of the
country—some from as far away as Newfoundland.
Many of the CFIA employees signed up to work on the campaign out of a
sense of duty and service to the public and the farming
community. Most of these workers had to leave their families
behind for a minimum of three weeks, and many stayed for up to six
weeks or longer.
Living out of suitcases, the workday for most of these people was long:
up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. All were required to
receive strong anti-viral medication as well as flu shots.
They worked under very difficult conditions. Poultry barns are hot and
humid, and the workers had to wear full-body bio-secure suits and face
The psychological impact of being constantly exposed to dead animals
and the stench of decomposing carcasses is indescribable—it has to be
experienced first hand to be believed. Several workers reported that
one of the hardest jobs they had to do was destroying pet birds in
front of their owners.
The elimination of large flocks of birds was conducted with military
precision to make sure that no trace of the virus is left behind. Once
a farm was identified as infected, crews and equipment were dispatched
to the site. The logistics of the work are enormous: from sealing and
preparing the barns to the fumigation of flocks, and the disposal of
bird carcasses either by composting or incineration.
The eradication campaign here in the Fraser Valley and the rapid influx
of front-line workers from other parts of the country put added
workload pressures on those who stayed behind to operate other CFIA
However, at the same time they’ve been in the forefront of the battle
against the avian flu, some 4,000 unionized CFIA workers in the Fraser
Valley and across the country were in the midst of trying to negotiate
a new collective agreement with their employer.
And despite these workers’ hard work and dedication, CFIA management
has been stalling contract talks to deprive workers of a fair
Negotiations have been going on for more than a year, and management is
effectively asking the workers to take a pay cut. The agency’s wage
offer of one per cent a year for three years does not keep pace with
inflation, and does not bridge the salary gap that currently exists
between the majority of CFIA staff members and other workers in the
federal public service whose jobs are similar.
CFIA workers have already given their union a strong strike mandate,
and the threat of job action is fast becoming a possibility.
Management’s intransigent attitude in bargaining is a real slap in the
face for employees whose valuable contributions help make Canada’s food
safety and inspection system one of the best in the world.
Surely it’s time that the federal government recognizes the hazardous
and courageous efforts of CFIA workers to protect the health and safety
of all Canadians, and the viability of our poultry industry. A lot more
respect is due at the bargaining table.
Patty Ducharme is the BC regional executive vice president for the
Public Service Alliance of Canada.