Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

CNRL Abandons Newfoundlanders in Northern Alberta

Newfoundlanders claim company has left them stranded in Alberta
The Telegram

What was supposed to be a tasty piece of the Alberta employment pie quickly turned into a sour serving of severance for a small group of Newfoundland workers who found themselves on their own in the oil-rich western province with no job and no way home.

The group had been working on a 20 days on, eight days off schedule for one of the many contractors at the huge Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Horizon oil sands project near Fort McMurray.

As part of the deal, the company was supposed to fly workers back and forth between Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.

But about halfway through a recent 20-day schedule, some of them say they were told by the company that the project was over-manned and that some 15-or-so people would have to be let go.

"I asked why they were letting us go, and what about our flights?" one of the displaced workers told Trancontinental Media.

"They said they don't pay for flights if they let you go - once they let you go they're not responsible to get you out of Alberta. You're on your own."

Adding further insult to injury, the workers say they were offered a lift to Fort McMurray and a bus ticket from there to Edmonton.

"To get back to Newfoundland from there, the money had to come out of your own pocket," the worker said.

When the workers questioned what was happening, they said were told that unless they had worked a total of 60 days, the company was within its rights to cut them loose without a plane ticket.

"They went on this agreement that nobody knew anything about," the worker said, noting that he had nearly 50 days punched with the company over the course of two trips.

"They said they didn't have to do anything for us because we weren't there for 60 days, we were on a 60 day trial and they can get rid of you anytime you want."

Representatives for the company involved could not be reached for comment.

And the union that represents several of the workers - as well as many others employees with different companies at the CNRL project site - says it hasn't been made aware of the situation.

But Wayne Prins, the lead representative for the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) union [sic] at the CNRL site, says any company that lays off workers due to shortage of work cannot leave them without at least a ride home. "Yes, there is a 60-day probationary period but that really has nothing to do with a layoff due to shortage of work," Prins said, indicating that a layoff is not a dismissal, and is therefore outside the realm of the probationary period.

"They would be required to send them home and pay out any remaining bonus programs or anything to do with other terms of employment,"

Prins added, suggesting that any CLAC member involved in such a matter should get in contact with him or the union as soon as possible.

"So this notion of a company laying people off and leaving them stranded in a city 5,000 kilometres from home makes absolutely no sense and it's a breach of the agreement."

The difference between "layoff" and "dismissal" may be the key.

While the workers were told they were being sent home due to shortage of work, on Tuesday, some of them received their records of employment (ROE) showing they had been dismissed.

"Generally speaking, if you get laid off, then the employer will honour their commitments to you," said Paul de Jong, the Alberta provincial director for CLAC.

"If you get fired for just cause, then they'll usually say, hey, you dug your own hole and you'll have to deal with it."

The workers, however, maintain they were told straight out that they were being let go due to shortage of work.

"They said they hired too many guys and they said, 'well, we have to let people go,'" the worker said, insisting that the recent incident wasn't isolated.

"This kind of stuff has happened before from what we've heard," he said.


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