If a job is so incredibly distasteful that no one wants to do it, what do you do? In Canada, sadly, the answer might be to offer those terrible jobs to incoming Syrian refugees.
Such is the dilemma faced by Canada’s slaughterhouses. According to the Canadian Meat Council (CMC), the nation is short about 1,000 meat packing plant workers. The jobs the plants can’t fill are the worst ones, of course.
Canadian slaughterhouses need strong, healthy labor to man the kill floors and cut the carcasses. Money is tight, jobs are hard to find, and the jobs are critical to the industry. Even so, few Canadians step forward to volunteer to kill and dissect animals for food. Of those who do, many just can’t take it.
“We have people who walk away after a couple of hours,” Werner Siegrist, of Canadian Premium Meats, told Global News.
It’s no wonder, is it? You’d have to be numb to suffering or desperate for work to survive in a slaughterhouse for long.
The Psychological Toll of Slaughterhouse Work
The Canadian meat industry employs over 64,500 nationwide. Despite good benefits and steady work, there’s been an “industry threatening scarcity of Canadian butchers, meat cutters and laborers who are willing to accept job offers… in smaller, more distant and rural locations,” according to the CMC.
The reason why isn’t hard to discern. For most people, it’s horrific work that leaves them reeling.
Slaughterhouse workers often experience a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) known as Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS). PITS results from situations in which the sufferer was a “causal participant” in a traumatic event. Symptoms include depression, dissociation, paranoia, anxiety, panic, drug and alcohol abuse, and dreams of violence.
As one worker confessed to a researcher:
The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in that stick pit for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things, but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around down in the blood pit with you and think, “God, that really isn’t a bad-looking animal.” You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them — beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.
Similarly, Gail Eisnitz, author of Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the US Meat Industry, told VegNews magazine that many workers she interviewed for her book “described suffering from alcoholism, while others explained that they had taken out their frustrations through physical violence directed at their wives and children.”
Should Refugees Have to Face This New Form of Trauma?
For the last 10 years or more, Canada has authorized skilled immigrants to work in its slaughterhouses under its Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The CMC now proposes that because of the chronic shortage in this industry, Canada adjust its rules to permit incoming Syrian refugees to take these jobs under the country’s new “Express Entry” program.
While that action might help resolve the meat worker shortage, what toll would such work take on people already traumatized by war? What kind of welcome would such a bloody business be to a country that’s supposed to represent a bright and shining new chance for happiness?
The choice to accept slaughterhouse jobs would be up to the refugees, of course. Would many of them, needing the work, refuse? Probably not, which might make you wonder what such jobs would mean for their emotional well-being in their new homeland.
The era of the slaughterhouse must end, in Canada and around the world. It’s no longer necessary for most humans to eat meat to survive. If we can end the demand, we can end the need for this barbaric industry.
2016 by Susan Bird