Oilsands workers based outside Canada exempt from border restrictions, 14-day quarantine

Foreign citizens entering Alberta to work in the oilsands have been exempt from federal COVID-19 restrictions at the border since June 2020, including the 14-day quarantine.

Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said in a Tuesday email these workers were declared essential after the federal government granted them permission to cross the border. The province’s guidelines on exempt workers have been online since last spring.

“They can go to work without the quarantine. That’s the federal provision and we mirror it,” said McMillan in an email, adding they are still required to follow the province’s health restrictions.

Representatives from the provincial and federal government could not confirm by deadline how many workers living outside Canada are working in the oilsands, or how many of those workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since arriving in Alberta.

A health and safety employee with Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL) who spoke to Fort McMurray Today on condition of anonymity confirmed the company has American workers at its oilsands operations for seasonal maintenance work.

Some of those workers have tested positive for COVID-19 while working in Alberta and been hospitalized. The CNRL employee could not confirm how many Americans have COVID-19, but said the workers were from Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon.

The health and safety employee said some of those workers were with Texas-based contractor AZZ, which specializes in welding, metal coatings and electrical equipment. AZZ did not return requests for comment.

CNRL spokesperson Julie Woo said the company would not comment on the issue. She also would not confirm if the company still requires workers to quarantine, despite the exemption.

Suncor spokesperson Melanie Ducharme said the company had American contractors complete a 14-day quarantine when they were brought in for maintenance work. Those workers have since left the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area.

Syncrude spokesperson Will Gibson said roughly 30 American workers and another 30 workers from Germany, the Netherlands and Trinidad are being used for seasonal maintenance work.

The company required them to quarantine, but an exception was made for a fully vaccinated American contractor. Gibson said their trades were “highly specialized” and difficult to find in Canada.

Mayor, AFL alarmed at exemptions

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said it was “an outrageous situation” that oilsands companies were using American workers for routine maintenance.

“It makes no sense to bring in American welders when we have literally thousands of unemployed welders right here in Alberta,” he said.

“They shouldn’t be here in the first place, but to have them exempted from the quarantine requirements everyone else has to abide by when entering the country makes no sense.”

Mayor Don Scott said he learned American contractors were working at oilsands operations when contacted by Fort McMurray Today. He added this information has never been mentioned during meetings with government or industry representatives.

“What we’ve been asking for throughout this pandemic is for information, just simple things, so we can understand what’s happening in this region,” he said. “It wasn’t until (Monday) we finally got breakdowns of vaccines in our region.”

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