Union rejects province’s call for arbitration in Olymel strike

Labour minister had proposed third-party settlement

(Olymel video screengrab via YouTube)

A proposal from Quebec’s labour minister to end a four-month strike at a major hog slaughter plant, which has created a backlog of market-weight hogs on farms in Eastern Canada, has been rejected by the workers’ union.

Provincial Labour Minister Jean Boulet, at a meeting Thursday morning, put out a proposal to meat packer Olymel and the CSN-affiliated Syndicat des travailleurs d’Olymel Vallee-Jonction (STOVJ) to take the labour dispute to arbitration, and gave the parties until 5 p.m. to respond.

The union refused the proposal, Boulet said Thursday afternoon on Twitter, adding he would ask his appointed special mediator, Jean Poirier, to run a “blitz” of negotiations toward a negotiated agreement between now and Sunday.

Olymel had said Tuesday it would give its Vallee-Jonction hog plant’s workers until Sunday night to reconsider their rejection last week of an agreement in principle reached between the union and management.

Without a deal by then, the company said it will start the process to scrap the plant’s evening shift and lay off about half the plant’s 1,050 unionized workers by the end of the year.

STOVJ president Martin Maurice, in a separate statement Thursday, said the union favours negotiation over arbitration because it’s still convinced a new deal in principle can be negotiated in a short time frame.

The union told Boulet it would refuse arbitration because its members would “certainly not want a settlement imposed by an arbitrator after having spent nearly four months on strike.”

The STOVJ also called on Poirier to launch the negotiating blitz as soon as possible.

The idea of provincially-arranged arbitration to wrap up the Olymel strike had been suggested last week by critics with the provincial third opposition Parti Quebecois.

Olymel’s plant at Vallee-Jonction, about 60 km southeast of Quebec City, has been idle since the STOVJ went on strike April 28. The plant currently has capacity to process about 35,000 hogs per week.

Les Eleveurs de porcs du Quebec, the province’s hog producer group, last week estimated about 150,000 market-weight hogs were backed up on farms awaiting slaughter as a result.

The group said previously it has been working with Olymel to try and manage the backlog, by shipping animals to slaughter outside Quebec and/or selling off piglets to free up barn space. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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