03/29/2013 05:20 EDT | Updated 05/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Striking workers at Sainte-Thérèse plant demand lower retirement age

A group of striking employees at a Sainte-Thérèse chemical manufacturing plant say their long-hours demand an earlier retirement age.

The workers at Arclin Canada, who have been on strike since Thursday, are asking the company to lower the retirement age from 65 to 62.

Benoit Amireault says he is already having trouble concentrating during the 12-hour shifts and he's only 49-years-old.

Union spokeswoman Claireandrée Cauchy, said a number of factors make the job especially difficult.

“People here work with really toxic products. They have to lift really heavy weights. It's really hard for their health and they cannot afford to be working until they're 65,” Cauchy said.

According to Cauchy, some branches of Arclin outside Quebec permit employees to retire at 62 without penalty.

She said she is concerned the long hours could lead to an accident.

In 2009, fumes leaked from the plant, leading to the evacuation of dozens of homes in the surrounding area. Officials said the chemical reaction was the result of human error.

On Friday, officials said procedures have been updated since then to improve safety and prevent accidents.

Martin Forest, manager of the Sainte-Thérèse facility, said employees work in a safe environment.

"We believe that what we have in place is totally adequate," he said.

He said in the last few years, the company invested in more automated equipment to reduce physical strain on workers.

Forest said he wouldn't discuss details, but he said management is committed to finding a resolution.