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OHS investigating Canada's largest COVID-19 outbreak at meat plant after worker's death – CBC.ca

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Alberta Occupational Health and Safety is investigating two outbreaks of COVID-19 at Alberta meat-processing plants, one of which is the largest outbreak linked to a single site in Canada.

There are now 580 cases linked to the outbreak at the Cargill facility near High River, 440 of whom are Cargill employees.

One worker, a woman of Vietnamese background in her sixties, has died. Her husband is also sick and is being treated in hospital. The facility said Monday it would temporarily shut down as soon as it finished processing the meat already in the plant.

Another Alberta meat plant experiencing an outbreak, JBS in Brooks, remains open but production has been reduced to one shift. There are now 96 cases linked to that plant. 

A worker at JBS has died, as well as another person in the community, and Alberta Health Services is investigating to confirm if those deaths are due to the COVID-19 outbreak at the plant.

Nobody wants to eat a hamburger that somebody had to die to produce.– Thomas Hesse, UFCW Local 401

Alberta’s deputy minister of labour said investigations into both plants have been opened by OHS, and said there will be no further comment until the investigations are complete. 

The union brought the first 38 cases of COVID-19 at the plant to the attention of media on April 13, as some employees at the facility accused the company of ignoring physical-distancing protocols and trying to lure them back to work from self-isolation.

Two days later, an inspector from the provincial Occupational Health and Safety — which has a mandate to ensure Alberta workplaces are operating in a way that is healthy and safe for employees — conducted an inspection from a remote location via a live video call.

OHS deemed the plant safe to remain open.

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River, Alta., has forced the facility to temporarily close, raising concerns about beef prices and supply. 3:03

Thomas Hesse, president of UFCW Local 401, which represents workers at the plant, called for the facility to close weeks ago and has since called for an inquiry into the worker’s death.

“Nobody wants to eat a hamburger that somebody had to die to produce,” said Hesse.

In addition to an OHS fatality inquiry, the union has called for an independent investigation into Cargill, and the Alberta Federation of Labour has asked for a criminal investigation.

“It hits home on a personal level, but it also makes me very, very angry because from our perspective, this is a fatality that could have been avoided,” Gil McGowan, president of the AFL said. 

McGowan said it has been difficult to get updates, as he said the government and OHS are only communicating with the company, not the workers or union.

RCMP said it does not have an open investigation into the worker’s death at this time.

Many workers at Cargill are members of a tight-knit Filipino community, who live in large households and carpool to work together.

Workers fear for their job security, safety

Calgarian Cesar Cala Cala, a volunteer with the Philippines Emergency Response Taskforce, said some workers feel they are being unfairly blamed for the outbreak — and are deeply concerned about their job security and safety.

“Is the plant a safe place to work? And then are their jobs secure? Many of the temporary foreign workers, their stay in Canada is based on their work visa connected to Cargill,” he said.

People of colour are over-represented in the meat processing industry, according to an economist, and census data shows those in the industry make less than the average industrial wage.

AHS has a dedicated task force of 200 workers responding to the outbreak, and translation services are being used to communicate with workers and their families who speak English as a second language.

Five employees at Seasons Retirement Communities in High River have now also tested positive for COVID-19; three of whom are married to meat-packing workers at Cargill.

Why Alberta’s Filipino community has been hit particularly hard by this pandemic. 8:30

On Wednesday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the majority of Cargill workers who have tested positive live in Calgary, and commute to High River.

He said earlier in the week, city flags were lowered to half mast to mark the victims of the Nova Scotia killings, and said those flags will remain lowered to memorialize the victims of COVID-19.

“That is a reminder that our neighbours have died. People in our community have died,” he said.

Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday the JBS plant will remain open with necessary health and safety precautions in place as long as health officials say it is safe to do so, as it’s important to maintain the country’s food supply.

There are now 3,401 cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, and 66 people have died. Just over 17 per cent of cases in the province are linked to the Cargill outbreak.

The National Farmer’s Union said in an emailed release that the sites of the two outbreaks represent 85 per cent of Canada’s total beef supply.

“Farmers need emergency support so we can take care of our livestock until the plants ramp up again. Health and safety come first, but you can’t tell the cows to stop eating and growing until the crisis is over,” said Ian Robson, an NFU board member, in an emailed release.

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Canada unexpectedly adds 289600 jobs on gradual reopening – BNNBloomberg.ca

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Canada’s labour market unexpectedly strengthened after two-straight months of record losses as the country gradually reopens from COVID-19 related restrictions.

Employment rose by 289,600 in May, Statistics Canada said Friday in Ottawa, surprising economists who had been anticipating more losses last month. The gains were across most industries and provinces, though largely driven by higher employment in Quebec, the province hardest hit by the pandemic.

The numbers echo recent high-frequency data, which had signaled a recovery is underway, with job postings increasing and more Canadians reporting an increase in work at the end of May. They will be a relief to policy makers who had been scrambling to inject hundreds of billions in cash into the economy to keep it afloat. Still, just under 5 million remain without work or substantially reduced hours with the jobless rate at postwar records.

“The surprisingly positive readings on employment paint a more optimistic picture of the early part of the recovery, but there’s still a long road back,” Royce Mendes, an economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said in a research report. “The increase in May only represents 10 per cent of the COVID-19-related job losses and absences that occurred over the prior two months.”

Unprecedented Losses

The pick up in May follows an unprecedented loss of about 3 million jobs in March and April. More than 2 million employed Canadians continue to experience much lower hours worked than pre-crsisis.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 13.7% in May, from 13 per cent in April, as people returned to the labor force. Economists in a Bloomberg survey expected a loss of 500,000 jobs, with the unemployment rate rising to 15 per cent.

Canada’s currency extended gains on the result, appreciating 0.7 per cent to $1.3406 against its U.S. counterpart at 9:46 a.m. Toronto time. Yields on two-year government bonds rose 2 basis points to 0.35 per cent.

The better-than-expected report suggests the governments programs to cushion the blow to the labor market are working. By mid-May, 179,000 businesses had applied for the government’s 75 per cent wage subsidy program. The pace of applications to Canada’s emergency income benefit program has also decelerated in recent weeks, suggesting the worst of the layoffs and job losses is over.

In addition to the employment pick up, Statistics Canada said the number of people who worked less than half their usual hours dropped by 292,000. That means the number of Canadians who have either lost their job or worked substantially fewer hours has fallen to just under 5 million, from about 5.5 million in April. Hours worked rose 6.3 per cent in May from the prior month but were still 23 per cent below February’s levels .

Cautious Reopening

The surprise jump reflects the cautious reopening of the economy across provinces. By the time the employment survey was taken from May 10 to May 16, some provinces including B.C., Saskatchewan and Quebec allowed some non-essential businesses to reopen.

Quebec accounted for nearly 80% of May’s gains, the statistics agency said. In contrast, Ontario -– where the economy remained largely shut until May 19 –- saw more losses.

In the early days of the reopening, employment rebounded more strongly among goods producers, the data show. The goods-producing sector added 165,000 jobs versus 125,000 in services. Lower-wage jobs also rebounded more, particularly in retail trade, accommodation and food services.

Women Lagging

Demographically, male employment increased more than twice as fast as that for women, consistent with the more rapid increase in the goods-producing industry. Women were among the earliest victims of the Covid-19 related job losses in March and the latest data suggest they are slower to recover as well.

“The kinds of jobs that reopened earlier tend to be more male dominated in employment and also that more women don’t know how to get back to work because they don’t know what to do with their kids because schools aren’t open,” said Armine Yalnizyan, a research fellow at the Atkinson Foundation.

Women with at least one child under age 6 showed a slower return to work than women with older children. Statistics Canada said it will continue to monitor labor market outcomes for men and women with children in the months to come.

Youth are still suffering heavily from the Covid-19 economic shutdown. While employment recovered by 30,000 for those aged 15-24, the cumulative job losses for this age cohort are still a whopping 843,000 from February to May.

–With assistance from Erik Hertzberg.

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London region sees 28400 jobs lost to COVID-19 – CTV News London

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LONDON, ONT. —
The unemployment rate in London increased dramatically in May, according to Statistics Canada.

London’s jobless rate climbed to 11.7 per cent in May, compared to 8.9 per cent in April.

It’s the lowest number of people working in London since 2003, when there were over 80,000 fewer people living in the area.

Based on a three-month rolling average, London-St. Thomas has lost 28,400 people from its labour force – and that’s just since February.

That figure includes Shannon Rumble, “Since the beginning when everything shut down, I haven’t been to work at all.”

Temporarily laid off from her job as a line cook, federal CERB payments are helping, but Rumble needs things to get back to normal soon.

“I’m a single mom, so (my daughter) can’t go to day care. My parents are helping out, but I can’t go to work if she can’t go to school or day care,” she explains.

“Its not just numbers, it’s people,” London Mayor Ed Holder isn’t sugar coating the situation, “It impacts people on a very personal level and if you are trying to make a mortgage (payment), or make sure your kids are alright, I get that.”

From the perspective of businesses, Holder says large employers who are part of his COVID-19 economic task force are balancing an urgent desire to get staff back to work, with the need to keep them safe from COVID-19.

“We will be doing business, we may just be doing it differently,” he says.

Holder predicts a moderate, consistent comeback as businesses reopen, “I am optimistic that, while I don’t think it’s a quick recovery, I think it will be steady.”

On a national level, Statistics Canada reported a record high unemployment rate even as the economy added 289,600 jobs in May, with businesses reopening amid easing public health restrictions.

The national unemployment rate rose to 13.7 per cent, topping the previous high of 13.1 per cent set in December 1982.

The increase in the unemployment rate came as more people started looking for work.

The increase in the number of jobs come after three million were lost over March and April.

The average estimate from economists is for the loss of 500,000 jobs in May and for the unemployment rate to rise to 15.0 per cent, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

– With files from CTV’s Melanie Borrelli and The Canadian Press.

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What do the new CMHC rules mean for homebuyers? – Globalnews.ca

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Getting mortgage default insurance is about to get harder after Canada’s federal housing agency announced stricter lending standards on Thursday.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) says it will no longer allow homebuyers to use borrowed funds for their down payment, will require a higher credit score from at least one borrower and will lower the threshold for how much debt applicants can carry compared to their income.

The changes, which come into effect July 1, will reduce the purchasing power of homebuyers who opt for CMHC insurance and likely leave insured mortgage applicants in pricey markets with fewer options, according to mortgage brokers.

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CMHC’s new debt-ratio policy will lower homebuyers’ purchasing power by up to 11 per cent, according to Robert McLister, founder of rates comparisons site RateSpy.com.

For example, someone making $60,000 a year with a five per cent down payment and no pre-existing debt would be able to afford a home with a maximum home price that is roughly 11 per cent lower than what they would have been able to buy before the new rules, according to McLister’s calculations.

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Economists say the measures could discourage some prospective homebuyers from entering the market.

CMHC said it will require a credit score of at least 680, up from the current minimum of 600. It will also lower the maximum amount of debt applicants are allowed to carry compared to their income.

To measure the latter, lenders use two key metrics: the gross debt service ratio (GDS), or the share of income used to cover the mortgage and other housing costs like property taxes, and the total debt service ratio (TDS), the share of income used to cover housing costs plus the cost of servicing other debts.

CMHC is lowering the maximum GDS from 39 per cent to 35 per cent and the maximum TDS from 44 per cent to 42 per cent.






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Changes to the GDS threshold and the credit score minimum will have the greatest impact on affordability, said James Laird, co-founder of financial products comparisons site Ratehub.ca and president of mortgage brokerage CanWise Financial, in a statement via email.

Banning the use of borrowed funds to finance down payments will likely have a more marginal effect, as most Canadians rely on savings, investments and financial help from family for down payments, Laird added.

Mortgage insurance, which protects lenders from the risk of borrowers defaulting on their payments, is mandatory in Canada for loans with a down payment of less than 20 per cent.

Mortgage default insurance is available from CMHC as well as private companies such as Genworth MI Canada Inc. and Canada Guaranty Mortgage Insurance Co.

While the new CMHC rules do not apply to Canada’s private mortgage insurers, they could adopt the new policy on a voluntary basis.

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Private mortgage insurance providers could become “the only games left in town” for homebuyers in expensive markets like Toronto and Vancouver, where borrowers generally have higher debt ratios, McLister noted.⁠

McLister is critical of CMHC’s decision to tighten the rules at a time when the economy is already reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 public health restrictions.

“Normally, you don’t rock the boat when you’re already taking on water,” McLister wrote in a blog post shortly after the policy announcement. “But that’s what CMHC has done,” he added.

Canada’s housing agency has said it’s concerned that already high household debt levels will soar in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, increasing the risk that overstretched homeowners won’t be able to keep up with their mortgage payments.

The new rules “will protect homebuyers, reduce government and taxpayer risk and support the stability of housing markets while curtailing excessive demand and unsustainable house price growth,” said CMHC head Evan Siddall in a statement.

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— With files from the Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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