Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Destroyed bacon plant’s fate uncertain, staff to relocate

Quebec meat packer Olymel plans to temporarily relocate staff from a bacon plant that burned down last week to other nearby facilities while it decides on the plant’s future.

The company said in a release that it presented its relocation plan, involving five other Olymel plants within a 100-km radius, to its Princeville bacon plant’s 180-odd staff and their unions on Monday.

"While some of the facilities were spared by the disaster, the extent of the damage is such that a resumption of operations in the short-term is not feasible," the company, which operates a separate primary pork slaughter plant at Princeville, said Monday.

The cause of the May 6 fire "is not yet known, and Olymel still awaits damage assessment reports."

The Montreal Gazette on May 7 quoted company spokesman Richard Vigneault as saying the fire took over 24 hours to extinguish after it was reported in the early hours of May 6. About 100 homes in the area were evacuated for most of that day.

The newspaper also quoted Surete du Quebec officials as saying the cause of the fire was under investigation.

Olymel said Monday it’s "not excluding any scenarios for the future" and added it’s "too early to make a decision as to whether to rebuild" at Princeville, about 80 km southeast of Trois-Rivieres.

St-Hyacinthe-based Olymel said it would take "exceptional measures" to offer to relocate Princeville staff members to its bacon plant at Drummondville, processing plant at Trois-Rivieres, hog slaughter plant at Vallee-Jonction, cutting and processing plant at Ste-Rosalie and ham boning plant at St-Hyacinthe, "all on a voluntary basis."

Staff who want to take part in the relocation plan, which "should be in effect until September," would get "hiring priority," Olymel said.

Staff who accept Olymel’s relocation offer would work under the employment conditions and labour agreements in effect in those plants, and would get transportation services between Princeville and the other facilities "where numbers warrant."

"Analysis"

Given the cost of rebuilding at Princeville, Olymel said it "must first conduct an in-depth analysis of market conditions" in the bacon business.

"Lower production costs in the United States have enabled U.S. manufacturers to offer fierce competition for domestic products both in Canada and south of the border," Olymel CEO Rejean Nadeau said in a release. "The parity of the Canadian dollar with the U.S. currency also has an impact on our exports."

Thus, he said, "our analysis should enable us to evaluate the possibility of combining the bacon production which was previously done at Princeville with other operations," or "changing the mix of operations at the plant" before making a final decision on the Princeville site.

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