Alberta's energy sector in nosedive amid coronavirus pandemic

The halt of the economy has caused hundreds of Canadians who work in the energy sector to be laid off as most projects have been postponed.
The halt of the economy has caused hundreds of Canadians who work in the energy sector to be laid off as most projects have been postponed.

The halt of the economy has caused hundreds of Canadians who work in the energy sector to be laid off as most projects have been postponed for the foreseeable future, according to CBC.

"This is really having an impact on a lot of people's lives," said Jay Bueckert, regional director for the Christian Labour Association based in Fort McMurray. Bueckert said he’s been receiving dozens of calls daily from those desperately seeking work.

Over 500 Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) oilsand workers have already been laid off in order to reduce their operations during the coronavirus pandemic.

To make matters worse, the CLAC employees are contractors, which means during a layoff they have to go without pay, Bueckert said.

"Unfortunately, when it's a construction project, you have to actually be there doing the construction to get paid for it."

All non-essential workers of Suncor and Syncrude have been laid off and the companies have delayed projects in an attempt to limit the number of employees on site.

Typically oilsand facilities would only be shut down for the purpose of maintenance which can be done quickly with the help of bringing on extra workers however all maintenance work for Syncrude has also been postponed indefinitely, resulting in an additional 850 union jobs unable to be granted either.

"For a lot of these folks, they were just getting back to work doing some of these projects," said Bueckert. "I think it is quite devastating for a few."

"The oil industry has been doubly hammered by COVID-19 and the steep decrease in oil prices. It has had "a major impact on cash flow for these companies," Bueckert said.

Terry Parker, executive director of Canada's Building Trades Unions, said workers who are expecting to get work as a result of oilsand projects being shut down can no longer count on that as a viable option. Across Alberta about 10,000 jobs will be postponed from shutdown work according to Parker and some of those people have been waiting for five months for these jobs to be available.

"We want to make sure our members are gaining a pay cheque, but we also want to make sure things are done right and our members go home safely to their family and friends at the end of their shift," Parker said.

Parker said that not all of the shutdown work can be postponed however, some of the work needs to be done promptly to keep the plants functioning, and that's something that companies are looking into right now.

The ripple effect from the drop in oilsands work is being felt by people throughout Fort McMurray.

Frank Farberman, owner of Direct Workwear, sells safety gear to workers in Fort McMurray and even he has been forced to lay employees off from his store. "There's a lot less people working and families are hurting," said Farberman. "This town has just been put through too much."